Sewol ferry victims ask for pope’s help

Sewol ferry victims ask for pope’s help
Pope Francis.

The families of those killed in the April Sewol ferry accident asked the pope on Wednesday to publicly support the legislation of a controversial bill during his visit to South Korea from Aug. 14-18.

Pope Francis is slated to meet with the bereaved families in private Friday and offer words of consolation.

But the families hope the pope will offer a public statement in support of the so-called "special Sewol bill," which aims to create an inquiry panel to determine the causes of the ferry Sewol's sinking on April 16.

"We will tell the pope our grievances," Yoo Gyoung-geun, the father of a victim said. "We will inform him of the situation exactly as things are, right now, here in South Korea."

The bill has been stalled in the National Assembly for weeks, with lawmakers deadlocked over a key clause.

The controversial clause will decide whether to give the inquiry panel prosecutorial powers. The powers refer to legal authority usually reserved for state prosecutors, such as the right to ask courts for search warrants.

Opposition lawmakers and the families support the idea, saying such powers must be guaranteed to investigate senior government executives. Ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers oppose it, saying it will set a damaging precedent.

No agreement seemed in sight as of Wednesday, with lawmakers from both sides refusing to change their positions.

Families have been conducting a hunger strike since July 14 to urge lawmakers to give the inquiry panel special legal powers.

Some of the bereaved families are camped in front of the National Assembly building. Others are camped at Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul, where Pope Francis will hold a beatification ceremony on Saturday.

Local Catholic officials expect the pontiff to offer general words of support to the victims' families. They are unsure whether he will make a public statement backing the legislation of the special bill. Expect the leader of the Catholic Church to offer a broader message, Catholic officials in Seoul have said.

The sinking of the Sewol left 304 dead or missing, and has touched off a series of official investigations. Prosecutors have indicted shipping industry officials and government bureaucrats for habitually violating safety regulations in the months leading up to the April accident. Senior lawmakers and other top brass have also been linked to the accident.

Public faith in the investigations is low, according to recent data. Gallup Korea reported late last month about 66 per cent of those surveyed did not trust the probes.

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