Bereaved families clash with police at Sewol tragedy remembrance event
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Bereaved families clash with police at Sewol tragedy remembrance event

SEOUL – Several people were injured, including two who were rushed to the hospital in ambulances, Thursday night as family members of the victims of the Sewol disaster and their supporters clashed with police during their march to demand legislation of a special law to determine the cause of the ferry sinking.

Some 600 family members of the victims began a two-day march Wednesday to travel over 40 kilometers to the center of Seoul to mark the 100th day since the tragedy on Thursday.

Starting in Ansan, near the high school where more than 250 students and teachers lost in the tragedy studied and worked, the families marched to Gwanghwamun Square in a public display to demand parliament to pass the Sewol bill that has been pending at the National assembly.

The marchers, however, were blocked by police before reaching their final destination.

By 7pm KST, thousands were gathered at the second to last stop: an event to mark the 100th day after the sinking called “Remember Your Tears”, with famous singers such as Kim Jang-hoon and Lee Seung-hwan in attendance.

It was reported that approximately 10-15,000, which included the family members, who arrived an hour later.

The event was a time of united mourning as families shared testimonies of their lost children and the crowd came together in song.

Following its conclusion, marchers began to slowly move to their planned destination. But by 10.30pm KST, police had already blocked off all sidewalks and accessible traveling routes to Gwanghwamun Square.

Still, the crowd pushed through.

Over the next 10 minutes rally participants and police locked bodies, attempting to push one another back with rain beginning to shower down. Finally, the District Police Chief Heo Chan allowed family members of the victims to go through – a promise that was made throughout the night.

Using the space authorities gave family members, some supporters also broke past the police line. Within the chaos, one woman who appeared to be in her mid-to-late forties collapsed, with several shouting for help.

Despite cries for help officers ignored the victims, opting to maintain the blockade they had established.

After 10 minutes paramedics arrived. Trapped by the police also, the ambulance pleaded through the intercom system saying, “The patient is in critical condition and must be rushed to the hospital.” Weaving through the large police trucks for several minutes, the ambulance barely escaped. Within another 10 minutes, another ambulance crew were treating a young girl for injuries.

Many children were  in the rally. Some were separated from their parents due to the pandemonium. Among the participants were three high school friends that were 19 years old; one who went by the surname Jeong.

“It’s shocking. This was a peaceful march. I don’t know what to say,” Jeong said. When asked if they knew this would happen, they all immediately shook their heads. “We came here to walk with the families but the police wouldn’t let us through. It was peaceful. We were singing songs, listening to poems about the victims.

“I’m scared. We’re all scared. But I think we should stay. I feel like we need to be here, united, for the families of the victims.”

When Asian Correspondent questioned police officers regarding the blockade, they all answered, “We’re not at liberty to respond,” until one finally said this rally was illegal because it was blocking traffic. To questions as to why the sidewalks were closed-off, he answered, “I cannot say because I didn’t see that. But the only reason for the blockade is because protesters aren’t allowing cars to drive.” The responding policeman refused to give his name but said he was apart of the Namdaemun District Police.

Law enforcement officers cut off nearly two kilometers of traffic, with guards posted at almost every corner within that radius. Bystanders waiting for buses complained about the police actions. “There are no protesters out there! Why are you blocking the roads?” one civilian asked. The officers replied that they did not know since they had just come up to Seoul today from the countryside.