10/27/2014, 00.00
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Prosecutors seek death penalty for Sewol captain

South Korean prosecutors conclude their case at the trial, being held in Gwangju, against 15 crew members of the ship that sank in April. The tragedy killed 304 people, mostly high school students. They seek life imprisonment for three senior officers and prison from 15 to 30 years in prison for the other 11 accused.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - South Korean prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Lee Joon-seok, the captain of the Sewol ferry that sank in April 2014 for reasons that remain unclear. According to the prosecutor, the man - who is accused of manslaughter - "failed in his duty. He fled without trying to save the people entrusted to him and has made excuses and lied. He has shown no repentance". The proceedings against Lee began last June in Gwangju.

14 other people, all crew members are with him in the dock. The prosecution is seeking life imprisonment for three high-ranking officers and a sentence of 15 to 30 years in prison for the other 11 accused. The verdict for the whole group is expected by mid-November.

There were 476 people on board the Sewol. Of these, 304 have died. The vast majority of the passengers consisted of high school students on a field trip to Cheju island (South Korea). The disaster has provoked widespread outrage and upset. In addition, the fact that the government has not yet given rise to an investigation into the causes that led to the sinking has sparked a series of controversies that have plunged the approval ratings of the President Park Geun-hye.

At the moment public anger is focused on captain Lee. During the trial some survivors testified that they received contradictory and dangerous instructions from the crew. Some Sewol officials ordered young people to remain in place, even though the ship had already begun the descent to the bottom. For his part, Lee "admitted" that "some employees could have done more."  

The tragedy was widely reported during the pastoral visit of Pope Francis to Korea, which took place August 14 to 18 last. The pontiff stopped several times to speak with groups of family members of the dead students - who are asking the government for "truth and justice" - and he wore the symbolic yellow ribbon brooch on his white skullcap, as a reminder of the young people who lost their lives at sea . The Pope also baptized the father of one of the victims, Mr. Lee Ho-jin, who has chosen to call himself Francis.

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