13 liberal leaders join hunger strike for ferry victims

SEOUL, July 18 (Yonhap) -- A group of leading progressive activists joined a hunger strike by family members of victims of April's ferry disaster on Friday, demanding the early adoption of a special law on the disaster.

Thirteen leaders of liberal civic, labor and religious groups joined the protest at the National Assembly and Gwanghwamun Square, both in Seoul, to show their sympathy for the family members who are on their fifth day of hunger strike, according to a group statement from the organizations.

The bill calls for the creation of an inspection team to look into the cause of the April 16 disaster that left more than 300 people dead or missing, mostly high school students. The law would also outline measures to provide compensation to the families of the victims.

"We embarked on a hunger strike to show sympathy for the families and win the passage of the special law on the April 16 disaster with the power of the people," the group said in a statement.

"Lawmakers should make a special law that would ensure investigative powers (for a parliamentary probe team that will handle the case)."

Among the 13 figures are Lee Tae-ho, secretary general of the Seoul-based People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy; Shin Seung-cheol, head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions; and Nam Gu-hyeon, a member of Professors for Democracy.

The 6,825-ton ferry Sewol capsized in waters off the country's southwest coast on April 16 with 476 people on board. A total of 294 people have been confirmed dead with 10 others still unaccounted for.

Rival parties failed to pass the law during the June extra parliamentary session that ended on Thursday, due to differences on the issue of giving independent investigative powers to the inspection team.

The parties plan to convene another extra parliamentary session next week in an effort to pass the bill as soon as possible, according to lawmakers.

Meanwhile, families of the Sewol victims demanded a meeting with Rep. Kim Moo-sung, the newly-elected head of the ruling Saenuri Party.

"Kim has promised to visit the family members who are staging a hunger strike at the National Assembly, but we cannot even see his face yet," a task force composed of family members of the ferry victims told reporters. "We want a meeting with him as early as possible."

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