Seoul’s presidential office accepts prime minister’s resignation over tragedy that’s left 300 dead or missing
SEOUL - South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won will carry on as the country’s second-in-command only until the aftermath of this month’s ferry disaster “settles down,” according to a presidential office spokesperson.
Min Kyung-wook responded to Chung’s earlier offer to resign by saying: “The president said wrapping up the accident and the rescue work is the most urgent job, so it would be right to accept his resignation after everything settles down.”
The PM had told reporters he held himself responsible for the government’s “mishandling of a slew of problems, from preventive measures before the accident to the government's initial response and follow-up steps over the accident.”
With 302 people confirmed dead or still missing following the sinking of the Sewol ferry off South Korea’s southwestern coast nearly two weeks ago, Chung pointed to “the pains of families of the victims and grief and anger of the people” as the main factor behind his decision.
Loved ones of the disaster’s victims have led criticism of the government for not acting swiftly enough to offer the 476 people – mostly high school students on a trip from Incheon to the resort island of Jeju - aboard the 6,825-ton Sewol the best chance of survival, having even initially overestimated the number of survivors by some margin.
South Korea’s main opposition party was quick to criticize the prime minister’s resignation during its own media briefing Sunday.
"His offer to resign alone at this critical juncture is an utterly irresponsible act and a cowardly attempt to evade the situation," said Ahn Cheol-soo, the co-leader of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy.
Families camping at a gymnasium on an island near the site where the ferry sank also reacted to the news, having already confronted Chung face-to-face a day after the disaster.
One insisted the PM “should have left far sooner over the government’s failure.”
Others suggested he “should first conclude the situation, regardless of whether he has done right or wrong."
Local media reports on Sunday suggested the presidential office would ask Chung to stay in his post until the accident had been cleared.
As the search for those caught in the submerged ferry’s wreckage continued for a thirteenth day, rescue teams were hampered by strong winds, rain and high waves.
The official death toll remained unchanged from the previous day at 188, leaving 114 still unaccounted for.
The captain and 14 key members of his crew are under arrest on multiple, including negligence of duty for evacuating with hundreds of passengers still on board the vessel.
The Sewol’s owner company, Chonghaejin Marine, is also under investigation as police and prosecutors aim to discover the cause behind the accident on the morning of April 16.
Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency