- Tearful S. Korea president says responsibility 'lies with me'
- Modi holds talks on India's new government
- Minister: Death for fatal abuse cases
Posted: 18 May 2014 08:55 PM PDT
SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean President Park Geun-Hye took tearful responsibility Monday for the mishandling of last month's Sewol ferry disaster, admitting many lives were unnecessarily lost and vowing to dismantle the national coastguard.
"The ultimate responsibility for the poor response to this accident lies with me," Park said in a televised address to the nation, during which she openly wept and twice bowed deeply in a display of contrition.
Park's popularity ratings have been hammered by the April 16 disaster that claimed around 300 lives, most of them schoolchildren.
She has voiced regret several times, but Monday's address was the first time she has explicitly accepted direct responsibility for what has become a defining moment of her presidency.
"As the president responsible for the lives and safety of South Koreans, I offer my sincere apology for all the suffering," she said.
Prime Minister Chung Hong-Won resigned last month over the disaster, and while there have been few calls for Park to step down, she has been criticised for not displaying enough sympathy or remorse.
Towards the end of her 30-minute address, Park's voice choked with emotion and tears ran down her face as she described the heroic actions of some of the victims who died trying to save others.
She highlighted the failure of the coastguard's immediate response to the tragedy and acknowledged the complaints of the victims' relatives that many more lives might have been saved.
"I have decided to dismantle the coastguard," she said, adding that its roles would be split between the police and a newly created ministry of national safety.
The 6,825-tonne Sewol was carrying 476 people when it capsized and sank off the southern coast on April 16.
The confirmed death toll stands at 286, with 18 still unaccounted for.
Of those on board, 325 were children from a high school on an organised trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.
The victims' families have been extremely critical of nearly every aspect of the government's handling of the disaster, with some taking their protests to the doors of the presidential Blue House in Seoul.
Many relatives believe some children may have survived for hours or even days inside air pockets in the capsized ferry, but died because rescuers took too long to access the submerged vessel.
'Act of murder'
Most of the ferry crew members escaped the vessel before it sank, and they have been vilified for abandoning hundreds of trapped passengers.
The Sewol's captain and three crew members were charged last week with manslaughter arising from gross negligence.
"The irresponsible acts of the captain and crew members who abandoned hundreds of people are practically an act of murder," Park said, adding that existing legislation would be amended to provide harsher penalties for officials found responsible for such accidents.
The Sewol tragedy has triggered a bout of intense national soul-searching in a country that had, until now, taken enormous pride in its extraordinarily rapid transformation from a war-torn, impoverished backwater to Asia's fourth-largest economy.
Investigations into the disaster have suggested it was almost wholly man-made: the result of cut corners, regulatory violations, poor safety training and a woeful lack of oversight -- all, or nearly all, attributable to a desire to maximise profits.
"It is our duty to reform and transform the country so that these lives were not lost for nothing," Park said, pledging to address the corrupt culture of collusion between regulators and business.
That cozy, illicit relationship was to blame, initial investigations suggest, for the fact that the Sewol was carrying three times its cargo capacity when it capsized.
Park also suggested that the time had come to break out of a period of mourning and recrimination that has paralysed the country for the past month.
"Now is the time to leave frustration behind and move forward. We have to set the country upright and transform it.
"I will stake my political life on correcting the wrong practices that have plagued our country for so long," she said.
South Korea is to hold key local elections in several weeks and Park's ruling Saenuri party is concerned about the political fallout of the ferry disaster.
Yang Seung-Ham, a professor of political science at Yonsei University, said Park's emotional address had sought to appease public opinion and draw a line in the blame game.
"Presidents should control their emotions, but I think it was a necessary gesture to show that she shared the public's sense of loss and sorrow," Yang said.
Posted: 18 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT
NEW DELHI: Prime minister-elect Narendra Modi has started to summon senior figures from his Hindu nationalist party for a series of talks on building a new government that is set to steer India sharply to the right.
Modi was holding meetings in New Delhi with his closest aides as well as national and state leaders of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) yesterday after storming to power in the general elections with a strong mandate for economic reform.
A day after parties, street parades and religious ceremonies were staged around the country to celebrate the BJP's landslide election victory, Modi was behind closed doors working on forming his new cabinet.
B.S. Yeddyurappa, a BJP leader hailing from the southern state of Karnataka, was among the first to meet Modi at the Gujarat House in Delhi as rounds of negotiations for plum posts got under way, according to television footage.
"All kinds of people are meeting Modi," senior BJP leader Prakash Javadekar told AFP, although he declined to give any details on the talks.
Modi, a popular but divisive political figure, later met with the party's elder statesman L.K. Advani at his Delhi residence.
The meeting followed the pair's falling out last year over Modi's nomination as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate.
Modi, a former tea boy who has governed his home state of Gujarat for the last 13 years, is expected to take office later this week after successfully securing the strongest mandate of any Indian leader in 30 years.
Modi along with his right-wing BJP soundly trounced the left-leaning Congress, which has ruled India for most of the 60 years since India's independence.
The defeat piled much humiliation upon the famous Gandhi family that dominates the party.
Modi faces enormous expectations from tens of millions of voters after pledging to create jobs and increase development to revive the country's stagnant economy, which is growing at the lowest level in a decade.
After his presidential-style campaign dominated the election, Modi reiterated yesterday his pledge to work with his BJP-led National Democratic Alliance coalition to make India a world leader "once again".
"NDA is committed to creating new opportunities to empower the people of India and to make India a Jagat (world) Guru once again," Modi said on his official Twitter account.
He has also toned down his Hindu rhetoric and pledged national unity amid warnings from opponents that he will alienate the country's 150 million Muslims and other religious minorities once in power.
Modi is tainted by allegations that he failed to stop anti-Muslim riots on his watch in Gujarat that killed more than 1,000 people in 2002.
Modi has denied any wrongdoing on his part in the matter and a court investigation found no case to prosecute.
Yesterday, top BJP leaders were also expected to meet in Delhi with the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu nationalist organisation that is seen as the ideological fountainhead of the BJP.
A senior BJP leader denied that they would be taking orders from the RSS on who should be appointed to the new cabinet.
He added that the talks were simply part of many discussions that were under way.
"We come to the RSS headquarters and meet seniors.
"It is part of our life," M. Venkaiah Naidu told reporters as he arrived there.
The BJP secured 282 seats in the 543-member parliament – the biggest victory since 1984 – while Congress was left obliterated, holding just 44 seats – a quarter of its tally in 2009.
The glaring defeat raises questions about the endurance of the Gandhi political dynasty after 43-year-old Rahul, leading campaigning nationally for the first time, suffered such humiliating rejection.
Congress is holding a meeting today in Delhi in which the outcome and the future direction of the party are expected to be discussed.
Local media have speculated that Rahul and his mother, party president Sonia, will offer to resign. — AFP
Posted: 18 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT
LAW Minister K. Shanmugam is in favour of imposing the death penalty on criminals who sexually assault women or abuse children, and the victim dies.
The Business Times yesterday quoted him as saying: "My thinking is that there should be a default death sentence for those who rape or sexually assault women, resulting in the victim's death, and for those who hurt a child and the child ends up dead.
"The accused in such cases should face the death penalty, unless he can prove why there shouldn't be such a penalty."
He told the paper that his view went further than what has been proposed by a committee, set up by his ministry and currently reviewing Singapore's law on homicide.
Chaired by Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah, it is considering creating a set of laws to deal with offenders who cause death as a result of violent crimes such as rape, crimes committed against young people and those committed by gangs.
Shanmugam is in Mexico where he will meet Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jose Antonio Meade.
His remarks reported yesterday drew a range of responses.
Amarick Gill, a criminal lawyer of 15 years, said that while he was personally opposed to the death penalty, there was reason to get tough on such offenders as their crimes can be termed "murder plus".
"Such acts are most offensive and when they lead to death, they are clearly more atrocious than murder, as though two crimes had been committed on the victim," he told The Sunday Times.
But Gill, who works at Trident Law, was against having a default death penalty. Rather, he felt the courts should have the discretion to decide on penalties.
"I feel that it would be too onerous a burden for an accused to prove (that he did not deserve death) if this was tabled into law," he said.
Gloria James-Civetta, a lawyer of 18 years, was against having such a law, saying it "seems to be very harsh". Having a default death penalty would also go against recent changes in homicide laws here, which have "reflected a second chance approach for the accused". — The Straits Times / Asia News Network
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