SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean President Park Geun Hye apologised on Tuesday for her government's failure to prevent a ferry disaster that left some 300 people dead or missing, and the inadequate emergency response.
Two days after her prime minister resigned over the tragedy, Ms Park voiced profound regret at the systemic and regulatory failings that contributed to the capsize of the 6,825-tonne Sewol on April 16.
"I feel so regretful for having been unable to correct such long-running evils and letting an accident like this take place," she said in a statement to her Cabinet that was broadcast on national television.
"I don't know how to apologise for the failure to prevent this accident, and for the insufficient first response," Ms Park said. "I am sorry to the people and heavy-hearted that many precious lives were lost," she said.
Ms Park's government has been widely criticised over perceived corruption and lax safety standards that may have led to the disaster, with claims that the ferry was overloaded and that the passenger list was inaccurate and incomplete.
Relatives of the more than 100 passengers still missing have also blasted the response to the sinking, saying delays in launching the rescue had cost lives.
Earlier on Tuesday, the President had travelled to Ansan, just south of Seoul, where she paid her respects to a memorial for the hundreds of schoolchildren who died in the disaster.
Of the 476 people on board the Sewol, 325 were students from the same high school in Ansan. Only 75 of them were rescued.