Ferry disaster protesters march in Seoul

Seoul (AFP) - Holding yellow balloons and carrying banners, thousands of protesters marched in the South Korean capital Saturday, calling for an independent probe into last year's ferry disaster.

Four different processions converged in central Seoul to protest at alleged government attempts to obstruct an independent investigation into the tragedy.

"Salvage the Sewol Ferry", chanted one of the groups as they marched along the pavement.

Wearing yellow scarves and ribbons, they also chanted slogans accusing the government of President Park Geun-Hye of seeking to hamper an independent probe into the sinking.

The marchers, including dozens of families of the victims, gathered for a rally in commemoration of the Sewol victims on a green area of Sejong Street where supporters of the families have been camping over the past year.

"Step down, Park Geun-Hye," and "Park Gen-Hye, don't come home," the crowd of some 3,000 chanted, with the president due to return Monday from a trip to South America which she began on April 16, the first anniversary of the disaster.

The sinking of the vessel in April last year claimed 304 lives, most of them teenagers on a school trip.

Police did not intervene and the protesters dispersed peacefully following a brief candlelit vigil.

On Thursday and again on Saturday last week, police sprayed pepper water and trained water cannon on protesters as a crowd of some 10,000 people surged into the street, attempting to force their way through police barricades towards the presidential residence.

Park vowed last week to raise the sunken ferry to the surface to help find the nine people who are still unaccounted for.

The announcement followed weeks of protests by victims' families and their supporters demanding a firm commitment to raising the 6,825-tonne ferry, despite the technical challenges and the estimated $110 million cost.

But the relatives were unappeased, saying Park had failed to give other assurances on their demand for a fully independent inquiry with no government interference.

While largely blamed on the ship's illegal redesign and overloading, the Sewol disaster laid bare deeper-rooted problems of corruption, lax safety standards and regulatory failings attributed to the country's relentless push for economic growth.

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