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    Apr 23, 2014

    Officials' gaffes fuel fury as ferry deaths rise


    AS THE official death toll from a South Korean ferry that sank last week grew to more than 100, emotions ran high and trust in public officials has taken a beating, as seen by a series of gaffes that sparked outrage among South Koreans.

    The sense of national grief has been underwritten by an equally deep but largely unfocused anger that has been vented on pretty much anyone in authority.

    Coast-guard officials have been slapped and punched, senior politicians - including the Prime Minister - pushed and heckled.

    Officials' actions, from eating cup noodles to taking a photo, have inflamed the public as anger mounted against the authorities.

    A senior official involved in the rescue operation was trying to take a photo in front of the situation room for the families of the missing when he was stopped from leaving by an indignant crowd.

    Song Young Chul, a director from the Ministry of Safety and Public Administration, was sacked on Monday for his offending snapshot.

    In another incident, Education Minister Seo Nam Soo was ridiculed after he was photographed last Wednesday - the day of the accident - eating instant ramen while sitting on a chair at a gym in Jindo, in which anxious relatives are staying.

    While not a major transgression, many of the relatives were seen lying and eating on the gym's floor, and he was criticised on the Internet for being an arrogant top-ranking government official eating "emperor noodles".

    Representative Chung Mong Jun, who is a multi-billionaire and the son of Hyundai's founder, had to apologise after his youngest son put up a disparaging post on Facebook.

    The 18-year-old had written: "Unlike people in other countries, who cope with disasters rationally, Korean people shout out loud and swear in the face of the President, who pledged to do her best with rescue efforts, and they even poured water on the Prime Minister.

    "It makes no sense to expect the President to become a god-like being and fulfil every need of the people when the national psyche is extremely uncivilised. People gather to form a nation, and this nation is uncivilised because the people are uncivilised."

    The official toll from the disaster stood at 108 yesterday, with 194 still missing. AGENCIES