(2nd LD) Park visits mourning altar, pays respects to ferry victims
SEOUL, April 29 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye paid her respects Tuesday to victims in the deadly sinking of the ferry Sewol, pledging to thoroughly reform South Korea into a safer country to live in.
President Park Geun-hye bows her head before a mourning altar for victims in the sinking of the ferry Sewol on April 29, 2014. (Yonhap)
Dressed in black, Park offered incense and bowed her head before rows of black-draped portraits of victims lined up on a giant altar laden with chrysanthemums at the official mourning center in Ansan, south of Seoul.
Ansan is home to Danwon High School, which lost about 260 students and teachers in the disaster.
Before paying her respects, she walked slowly from one side of the hall to the other while gazing at the altar and holding a white chrysanthemum with a yellow ribbon tied to it. At one point, she was stopped by a crying, elderly woman and embraced her.
She also wrote a condolence message.
Park later met with relatives of victims and promised to make the country safer.
"I am going to be holding a Cabinet meeting after this. I will make sure these sacrifices won't go down the drain by cutting out all accumulated evils (in the society) and build a safe country," she said.
Park heard a number of family members venting out their anger and frustrations. At the end of the visit, a man knelt before her and said, "Please make sure this kind of incident won't happen again." Park promised she will do so.
A total of 302 people are dead or missing in the April 16 sinking. The confirmed death toll stood at 193 as of Tuesday morning, with many of those missing presumed dead inside the sunken ship.
Park's visit to the altar came amid mounting public anger that the government was slow and incompetent in handling the sinking, which is expected to be one of South Korea's deadliest maritime accidents.
The disaster also revealed serious problems with the government's oversight of safety practices.
Prime Minister Chung Hong-won has offered to resign, holding himself responsible for the poor handling of the sinking. Park said she will accept the resignation after the situation is brought under control.
Park has since been under pressure to apologize.
A Cabinet meeting, which Park is scheduled to preside over later Tuesday, will be closely watched to see if she offers an apology.
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