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South Korean president turned away from Sewol memorial on 1-year anniversary

The conflict between the South Korean government and Sewol activists overshadowed the one-year anniversary of the ferry sinking that left hundreds dead.

By Elizabeth Shim
South Korean president turned away from Sewol memorial on 1-year anniversary
A South Korea coast guard helicopter hovered over the sinking ferry Sewol in the hours after the accident on April 16, 2014. On Thursday, South Korea observed the one-year anniversary of the disaster at sea. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, April 16 (UPI) -- Memorial services were held nationwide for the victims of the sunken South Korean ferry Sewol on Thursday, but victims' families and activists continued to protest what they view as the government's lack of response to a call for further investigation.

On this one-year anniversary of the sea tragedy that left more than 300 passengers dead, a siren rang for one minute at 10 a.m., to mark the tragedy and its toll on the city of Ansan, where the majority of the Sewol's victims attended high school.

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South Korean President Park Geun-hye's effort to visit a memorial at Paengmok Harbor was hampered when victims' families closed the memorial altar to protest the government's lack of closure on the ferry investigations.

Yonhap reported Park had to turn back without being able to burn incense at the altar as an offering to the deceased.

RELATED South Korea plans to recover ferry Sewol

Angry protesters and victims' families blocked other members of the governing Saenuri Party from attending memorial services in Ansan, demanding for the ferry's recovery and for a proper investigation into its sinking and the overloaded cargo responsible for the disaster at sea.

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The simmering conflict between the families and the South Korean government has plagued Park. Bloomberg reported the president's approval ratings stood above 50 percent prior to the disaster but since then plunged to an all-time low of 29 percent in early February.

Park has addressed the families' concerns of collusion between government and companies.

RELATED A father's fight for answers: What caused South Korean ferry sinking?

An anti-corruption bill passed in March in response to the growing controversy of gift-giving that may have contributed to oversight with Sewol and its parent company, Chonghaejin Marine Co.

On Thursday, Park said recovery of the Sewol should be a priority, and according to Bloomberg Seoul plans to spend $27 billion through 2019 to improve coast guard operations and emergency management.

Victims' families and activists are critical of the president, but critics of the families say their demands are becoming too unreasonable.

RELATED South Korea corruption probe grows after businessman's suicide

Hong Sung-gul, a professor of policy studies at Kookmin University said, "society has gone mad with unreasonable demands."

"Anything she does with an earnest intention is greeted with excessive criticism," Hong said.

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