South Korea ferry victim families scuffle with police

SEOUL (AFP) - Relatives of the victims of last year's ferry disaster scuffled with riot police at a protest in Seoul on Saturday, after the crowd attempted to march to the president's residence.

Hundreds of protestors violently shoved against rows of riot police lined up to prevent them from moving forward to the Blue House, as the official residence is known.

"Don't stop this peaceful march", the crowd chanted angrily - some of them carrying banners reading "Salvage the Truth" - as those at the front of their column tussled with the police.

Earlier a crowd of about 2,000 people heard speeches from victims' families accusing the government of hampering a probe into the Sewol ferry disaster - the first anniversary of which falls Thursday.

The overloaded Sewol ferry capsized and sank off Korea's southern coast on April 16, 2014, claiming 304 lives, including 250 students from the same high school in Ansan City.

Over the past year, families have repeatedly staged street protests and sit-ins, demanding an independent inquiry and urging President Park Geun-Hye to deliver on her promise to continue the search for the nine victims still missing.

Parliament passed a special law in November, initiating an independent investigation into the sinking but relatives have accused the government of seeking to hamper the probe and contain any political fallout.

The accident has been blamed by many on regulatory failings, official incompetence and the ship's illegal redesign.

More than 50 people have been put on trial on charges linked to the sinking, including 15 crew members - who were among the first to climb into lifeboats.

On Monday, after a similar protest by families last weekend, Park said she would consider salvaging the sunken ferry to find those bodies still unrecovered.

The raising of the vessel - if approved - will likely cost an estimated 120 billion won (S$150 million).

The Sewol's captain was jailed in November for 36 years for gross negligence and dereliction of duty, while three other senior crew members were sentenced to jail terms of between 15 and 30 years.