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SEOUL, April 16 (Yonhap) -- South Koreans marked the sixth anniversary of a deadly ferry disaster Thursday, remembering the lesson from the incident to firm up their determination to defeat the coronavirus.
The Sewol ferry capsized off the country's western coast near Jindo Island on April 16, 2014, killing 299 passengers, mostly high school students on a school trip. Five are still unaccounted for.
Hundreds of citizens, including victims' families and friends, gathered at an official memorial ceremony in Ansan, south of Seoul, home to most of the victims.
Commemorative events were also held elsewhere, including Jindo, where dozens of bereaved families and supporters visited the site of accident and threw flowers into the sea.
Political leaders said the painful lessons from the disaster undergird the nation's resolve and ability to overcome the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
"The lesson from the Sewol lies in our attitude and measures to tackle COVID-19," President Moon Jae-in said in a social media post.
He said people learned from the disaster to act responsibly and to take care of each other. The sinking also taught citizens how deeply connected they are.
"We are now reaffirming our interdependence while overcoming COVID-19. The people are wearing masks and implementing social distancing and self-isolation, determined that no one will be left helpless," he added.
In his message at the ceremony in Ansan, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said over the past six years since the incident, society has learned to give more weight to safety and life.
"The time of maturity has now become a strong driving force to overcome a national crisis caused by the new coronavirus infections," he said.
He also promised to push ahead with projects to build a public park and a mental health center in commemoration of the incident.
Participants had their temperatures taken, wore face masks and sat with space between them to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
A group of the victims' families issued a statement at the event, calling for a thorough investigation into the sinking of the ferry and botched rescue of the victims.
Late last year, the prosecution launched a reinvestigation into the case.
Prosecutors are probing coast guard officials over their alleged mishandling of the incident and looking into suspicions that members of a now defunct Sewol investigative panel covered up government officials' misdeeds.
They also called for legislation to punish those who slander the victims and their families.
During a TV debate last week, a parliamentary candidate from the main opposition United Future Party mentioned an unconfirmed news report that two bereaved family members and a supporter committed sexual acts at a protest tent in central Seoul in May 2018.
The party, which suffered a crushing defeat in Wednesday's elections, apologized again on Thursday. The ruling Democratic Party pledged to make efforts to unveil the truth behind the Sewol tragedy and enhance safety systems to ensure such an event will not happen again.
Hundreds of messages were posted on the day on a special bulletin board in remembrance of the victims on the homepage of the Gyeonggi Province education office. The site briefly broke down in the morning due to a surge in visitors.
South Korean residents in Australia, New Zealand and Germany also opened an online commemorative site and held memorial ceremonies via teleconference.
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