(Recasts, adds details throughout)
By James Pearson and Ju-min Park
SEOUL/INCHEON, South Korea May 8 Parents of
children killed when a passenger ferry sank last month led a
sombre march on South Korea's presidential palace in the early
hours of Friday morning, where they demanded to meet with
President Park Geun-hye.
Clutching memorial portraits of their children, family
members and grieving parents were prevented by riot police from
nearing the palace, and instead sat in the middle of the road
where they sobbed, wailed and shouted in anger.
"Listen to us, President Park. Just give us ten seconds!,"
one family member said, using a portable address system. "Why
are you blocking the way?," said another. "President Park hear
Seated on the ground in the middle of the night, they wore
beige blankets and huddled in rows on the cold floor. One
mother, overcome with grief, quietly sobbed as she stroked a
portrait of her dead son.
Park's government has faced continued criticism for its
handling of the disaster from the families of the ferry victims,
many of whom believe a faster initial response could have saved
many more lives.
South Korean prosecutors are seeking the arrest of members
of the family that owns the ferry operator, and may also seek
the extradition of a son of the reclusive head of the family
from the United States, an official said on Thursday.
The Sewol, overloaded and travelling too fast on a turn,
capsized and sank about 20 km (12 miles) off the southwest coast
on a routine journey from Incheon on the mainland to the
southern holiday island of Jeju, killing hundreds of children
and teachers on a high school outing.
Only 172 people have been rescued and the remainder are all
presumed to have drowned. An estimated 476 passengers and crew
were on board.
However, some of the crew, including the captain were caught
on videotape abandoning ship while the children were told
numerous times to stay put in their cabins where they awaited
They paid for their obedience with their lives.
Heartbreaking new video released by families on the march
showed students laughing as they tried, and failed, to scramble
up a vertical floor.
Earlier footage recovered from the students' mobile phones
shows them playing around as the ship started listing, even
joking about the sinking of the Titanic, when they had plenty of
time to jump overboard.
Only two of the vessel's 46 lifeboats were deployed.
The prosecutors' pursuit of a son and a daughter of Yoo
Byung-un, the head of the family that owns Chonghaejin Marine,
the ferry operator, broadens the criminal investigation into the
tragedy. The government has also started the process of
stripping the company of its licence to operate ferries.
It was not clear whether Yoo Byung-un, who ran the defunct
commercial empire that was the precursor to the sprawling
business interests that include Chonghaejin, might be called in
Yoo's son Hyuck-ki, who is believed to be in the United
States, has failed three times to respond to a prosecution
summons, an official said. Other aides to Yoo are also believed
to be abroad and have ignored summonses.
"Since it is an important issue that has drawn public
attention, we will do our best (to ensure) their attendance and
forcible extradition," said Kim Hoe-jong, second deputy chief
prosecutor at Incheon District Prosecution Service.
Prosecutors arrested several officials of the ferry operator
and its affiliates, including Chonghaejin's chief executive, on
charges of negligence causing death and the sinking of a vessel
All 15 of the surviving crew members, including the
69-year-old captain, have been arrested and face charges of
gross negligence amid accusations they abandoned the vessel
without performing emergency escape procedures.
Yoo's sons, Yoo Hyuck-ki and Yoo Dae-kyun, are majority
owners of Chonghaejin Marine through an investment vehicle.
The prosecution is working with the U.S.' Federal Bureau of
Investigation and Department of Homeland Security for possible
extradition of Yoo Hyuck-ki, the prosecutor said.
Prosecutors have also raided the shipping company's offices
and financial regulators are investigating borrowings of the
company and of businesses that are part of a wider holding firm.
Son Byoung-gi, a lawyer who has spoken for the family
previously, did not immediately comment.
South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy and one of its
leading manufacturing and export powerhouses, has developed into
one of the world's most technically advanced countries, but
faces criticism that regulatory controls have not kept pace.
Nearly 450,000 people have paid tribute to the victims at
the altar set up near the school many of the children attended.
(Additional reporting by Kahyun Yang in Seoul; editing by G
Crosse, Jack Kim and Nick Macfie)