Pope's Korea Visit Brings Hope for Ferry Disaster Inquiry

Opposition Party Pushing for Independent Investigation into Tragedy

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Pope Francis’ four day visit to South Korea which ended Monday could already be bearing fruit in helping to provide justice for victims of one of the country’s worst ferry disasters.

Following words of consolation the Holy Father offered relatives of victims who died during the sinking of the Sewol ferry earlier this year, South Korea’s main opposition party is pressuring the country’s ruling party to introduce a special bill for a proper inquiry into the tragedy.

The Korea Times reported Monday that the New Politics Alliance for Democracy party (NPAD) believes the Pope’s meetings with the bereaved families, which featured in world media reports, might be enough to force the ruling Saenuri party to accept what the families are calling for.

The NPAD singled out the Pope alighting from the popemobile on Saturday to meet Kim Young-oh who lost his teenage daughter during the tragic accident. Kim has been on hunger strike to demand an independent investigation into the disaster. He reportedly asked the Pope to pray for “prompt legislation of the special bill.”

South Korea’s ruling party is opposed to such a bill, arguing that giving investigative rights to a special committee of inquiry could damage the nation’s judicial system. But the opposition party believes the Pope’s sympathy for the victims’ relatives means the ruling party could change its position.

The MV Sewol capsized on 16 April off the coast of South Korea, resulting in the loss of 368 lives, mostly secondary school students. Approximately 172 passengers survived. Criticism for the disaster has ranged from anger at lax regulations, a poor rescue operation and poor handling by South Korean President Park Geun-hye whose approval ratings have plummeted since the ferry sank. 

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