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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on April 14)

All News 07:07 April 14, 2016

Sewol anniversary

This weekend will mark two years since the sinking of the Sewol ferry which took more than 300 lives.

The second anniversary of the maritime disaster is an occasion to remember the victims, offer solace to their families and ponder whether the nation has truly learned anything from the accident.

After two years, the shock of the accident lingers in Koreans' collective memory. However, it cannot be denied that some citizens are getting a sense of "Sewol fatigue" due to the various disputes and ongoing division it has created in society.

One of the biggest reasons contributing to this sentiment is the prolonged Sewol demonstration in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul. After two years, it is high time the protesters remove themselves from Seoul's iconic venue. They must find alternative means of delivering their message of "uncovering the truth behind the Sewol" in accordance with the law and without infringing upon all the citizens' rights to fully enjoy the public space.

Most Koreans agree with their message. The people also want to know the truth behind the disaster and why the government failed to rescue the victims. But public opinion toward the Sewol demonstration is turning increasingly negative because the protesters have turned the heart of the capital into a place of hostility. The square is first and foremost a place for pleasant rest and leisure for citizens and tourists. The bigger problem is that the square has been turned into a Mecca of illegal protest, particularly in the last two years, and these protests were mostly staged in relation to the Sewol disaster, according to latest police reports. It is completely inappropriate for a certain organization to occupy the public space for such a long time without proper permission.

Seoul city administration, which is in charge of managing the square, has been reluctant to remove the protesters for fear of a public backlash. As it is against the law to stage rallies in the square, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon is being irresponsible by indulging the Sewol protesters for as long as he has. It is his job to ensure that regulations about the management of the square are fairly and strictly applied.

By calling for an end to the protests, we are by no means suggesting an indifference to the frustration of the victims of the Sewol families. We are underlining a rational and mature approach to post-disaster measures.

After two years, the government's reaction to the disaster still leaves much to be desired because it has not kept its word for an investigation and prevention. Even with the establishment of the Ministry of Public Safety and Security, many Koreans do not feel that Korea is a safer country than it was two years ago. A special committee for investigating the disaster has been unable to carry out its function because of a lack of cooperation from the government and the ruling Saenuri Party, and has failed to gain the time and the budget for a proper probe.

The Sewol tragedy will be remembered by many as a mixed result of the nation's backward practices in business and government. How Korea responds to it from now on will be a test of the maturity of our society.
(END)

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