Dispute over President Park's apology toward ferry victims escalates

South Korea's President Park pays tribute to victims of sunken passenger ship Sewol, at the official memorial altar for the victims in Ansan

Disputes escalated on Wednesday over a Cheong Wa Dae official's response toward negative reactions from the families of ferry victims against President Park Geun-hye's apology to them.

Presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook said it is "regrettable and a pity" that the victims' families protested against the president and viewed her apology as not sincere enough. During a Cabinet meeting held Tuesday, Park offered an apology over the government's failure in adequately handling the Sewol ferry disaster. The families, however, sharply criticised her, claiming the apology was nothing but words.

"President Park apologised yesterday. But if the recipients (have a response) like that, (it is) regrettable and a pity," Min told reporters. "The president spoke with total sincerity."

After paying her respects to the victims of the ferry sinking during a visit to a funeral altar in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, Park made her apology during the weekly ministerial meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, saying she was "sorry to the people" and feeling "heavy-hearted."

Her apology came 13 days after the ferry sank off the country's southwestern coast on April 16. It was her first public apology for the disaster. She had been pressured by the opposition party to apologise for the incident and console the victims' families.

Later in the day, victims' families lashed out at Park, saying she should have made the apology in front of the people, not in front of the Cabinet members.

"There are 50 million people (in this country). But it seems for President Park that her people are just Cabinet members," they said in a joint press conference held in Ansan, where most of the victims lived.

"It seemed (for us) that President Park visited the altar today to make a commercial film. That was not the image of a sincere president," they said.

Families also requested a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident and urged the government to intensify its efforts in discovering bodies of missing passengers.

As his comment sparked controversy, Min returned to reporters and said it was only his personal opinion and did not represent Cheong Wa Dae's official stance. He also added that it was not appropriate for a spokesman to make a comment about whether the president would make another public apology later or not, reversing his earlier statement that she would do so.

Min told reporters on Tuesday evening that Cheong Wa Dae would consider when and how to deliver another public apology over the disaster.