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Park faces question of whether, when to apologize over ferry disaster

2014/04/28 11:31

SEOUL, April 28 (Yonhap) -- After deciding to let her prime minister go, President Park Geun-hye faces another hard question: whether and when to apologize for her administration messing up the response to the deadly sinking of the ferry Sewol.

The widespread view is that Park cannot get away by simply accepting the resignation of Prime Minister Chung Hong-won and that she must apologize herself for the disappointing way her government handled the disaster that left more than 300 people dead or missing, most of whom were young students.

Chung, Park's first prime minister, offered to step down on Sunday, holding himself responsible and apologizing for "a number of problems" revealed during the disaster, from those with preventive measures to the initial response and search and rescue operations.

Park decided to accept Chung's resignation, though she said she would keep him until the disaster is brought under control. The decision sparked criticism that Park is trying to get away with not apologizing herself by only holding the prime minister responsible.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy demanded Park's apology, with co-leader Ahn Cheol-soo denouncing her decision to let the prime minister go as "extremely irresponsible" and efforts to "cowardly shirking her responsibility."

   Some members of the ruling Saenuri Party also believe that Park should apologize.

"I expect the president will apologize at an appropriate time," said Rep. Kim Young-woo during a radio interview Monday.

Public anger has mounted that the government was slow and incompetent in handling the sinking, which is expected to be South Korea's deadliest maritime accident ever. The disaster also revealed problems with the government oversight of safety practices.

Last week, Park likened the actions of the ferry's captain to murder for abandoning the sinking ship ahead of hundreds of passengers. She also vowed to uncover all irregularities involved in the ferry's operations and force those responsible to take "criminal and civil" responsibilities regardless of their ranks.

But she did not apologize for the way the government handled the accident.

Should Park decide to offer an apology, she could do so as early as Tuesday when she presides over a Cabinet meeting because she has usually taken advantage of opening remarks at Cabinet meetings or meetings with senior secretaries to offer such apologies.

Considering the scale of the disaster, she could also issue a separate statement of apology or hold a press conference to apologize and announce what she and her administration will do to overhaul the government's disaster response system so as to prevent a similar accident from happening again.

"The president should do something more than an apology," a ruling party lawmaker said on condition of anonymity. "The president should issue a statement to the people containing an apology and her vision for a thorough renovation of the country."

   Experts also agree in principle that an apology is necessary.

"The reason the government exists is to protect the lives and properties of the people. It is pretty natural for the president to apologize for failing to fulfill the duty," said Kim Hyng-joon, a political science professor at Seoul's Myongji University.

Lee Chang-won, a professor at Seoul's Hansung University, said, however, that it is not the right time for the president to apologize because search efforts are still under way for the more than 100 people still missing.

"Such a political gesture can wait," he said.