South Korea police clash with protesters over ferry disaster

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korean police clashed on Saturday with thousands of protesters, blocking their way to the presidential palace where they hoped to press for more government action in response to a ferry disaster that claimed more than 300 lives a year ago.

The rally on the main ceremonial thoroughfare in downtown Seoul was organised by a group representing families of the victims.

It was the largest in recent weeks as the country marked the first anniversary of the April 16 disaster.

Police in their hundreds used buses as barricades to block marchers from advancing towards the presidential Blue House, a Reuters witness saw.

Police sprayed water cannon and pepper spray to stop the marchers, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said, adding about 20 people were arrested.

The rally began at midday with a crowd demanding the government allow an independent inquiry into the disaster and make an immediate decision to raise the Sewol ferry.

The ferry was on a routine journey from Incheon to the southern island of Jeju when it capsized making a sharp turn and sank. Among the 304 victims were 250 students on a class trip.

It was later found to have been structurally unsound and overloaded with cargo.

Anger among the families of the victims towards the government still runs high. They say the government let them down again this week by failing to announce a plan to raise the ferry by the first anniversary of the disaster.

President Park Geun-hye said on Thursday the government would begin preparing to raise the 6,800-tonne ship, her clearest indication yet of a plan to recover it.

The country's umbrella labour federation joined the rally and vowed to join forces with victims' families to continue protests, calling for more rallies next weekend, according to a federation spokesman at the protest.