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S Korea leader apologises over ferry disaster

President's statement follows resignation by prime minister amid lingering questions over government's rescue effort.

Last updated: 29 Apr 2014 11:05
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South Korea's president has apologised for her government's failure to prevent a ferry disaster that left up to 300 people dead or missing and for the inadequate emergency response.

Park Geun-hye's apology, and the earlier resignation of her prime minister, comes amid rising indignation over claims by the victims' relatives that the government did not do enough to rescue or protect their loved ones.

"I don't know how to apologise for the failure to prevent this accident, and for the insufficient first response," Park said in a statement to her cabinet that was broadcast on national television on Tuesday.

"I am sorry to the people and heavy-hearted that many precious lives were lost."

Park had earlier visited a memorial set up in Ansan, the city near Seoul where the high school students are from, to pay her respects to the victims.

According to local media, some angry family members of victims shouted at her and demanded an apology.

She listened to them for 10 minutes before leaving.

Expanding inquiry

Investigators, meanwhile, are expanding their inquiry into both the cause of the Sewol's sinking and the initial response by emergency workers, according to AP news agency.

Only 174 people survived the sinking, including 22 of the 29 crew members.

On Monday South Korea's coast guard released a video showing the captain of the Sewol scrambling to safety as hundreds remained trapped inside.

Lee Joon-seok is seen escaping from the sinking vessel wearing a sweater and underpants.

All 15 crew members responsible for the Sewol's navigation have been arrested, but they have not been formally charged yet because investigations are still going on.

The arrested crew members are accused of negligence and of failing to help passengers in need.

Joon-seok initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and took half an hour to issue an evacuation order, by which time the vessel was tilting too severely for many people to get out.

Lee said after his arrest that he withheld the evacuation order because rescuers had yet to arrive and he feared for passengers' safety in the cold, swift water.

The government also raised the death toll to 193. Most of the dead and missing are high school students.

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Source:
Agencies
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