Rival parties call for unity, self-reflection amid papal visit

SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's rival political parties called Thursday for political unity and self-reflection as Pope Francis is making a rare visit to the nation plagued by a deadly ferry sinking and tensions with North Korea.

Francis, who arrived in South Korea earlier in the day, is the first pope to visit the Asian nation in 25 years. During his five-day visit, he is scheduled to participate in an Asian Catholic youth festival and a ceremony to beatify 124 Korean martyrs, among other events.

The pontiff is also expected to deliver a message of peace for the divided Koreas and East Asia.

"Our political community should take after the will of the pope and conduct politics of harmony and unity," Kim Moo-sung, the chief of the ruling Saenuri Party, said during a party meeting in Gwangyang, 423 kilometers south of Seoul.

Kim also expressed hope that the pope's visit would help the nation recover from the tragedy of April's ferry sinking that claimed the lives of more than 300 people, mostly high school students.

Citing Francis' calls against exclusion and discrimination, the ruling party leader said he would work to encourage harmony between different social groups, including between conglomerates and small firms.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) expressed hope that the pope's visit would help resolve the current parliamentary impasse over a special bill aimed at uncovering the truth behind the ferry sinking.

In a press briefing, Yoo Ki-hong, the senior NPAD spokesman, quoted Francis as saying that Buenos Aires is a city that "still hasn't cried enough" after a fire killed 194 people in his native Argentina in 2004.

"Now, at a time when the determination of the truth behind the Sewol tragedy is at a standstill, we must reflect on the pope's words with a heart of repentance," he said, referring to the 6,825-ton ferry that sank off the country's southwest coast on April 16.

In a Twitter message, NPAD's interim chief and floor leader, Park Young-sun, also called for self-examination.

"The pope is urging an awakening over the negligence of human life."

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