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Thousands gather at late ferry owner’s funeral

August 31, 2014
(Provided by the Evangelical Baptist Church / Yonhap)

More than 4,000 family members and followers of the Evangelical Baptist Church streamed in to the sprawling compound owned by the Christian sect in Anseong, about 80 kilometers south of Seoul, for the two-day funeral service of Yoo Byung-eun. (Provided by the Salvation Sect / Yonhap)

ANSEONG, South Korea (Yonhap) — Thousands of people gathered at a heavily guarded religious compound Sunday to attend the private funeral of the late shipping business tycoon blamed for April’s ferry disaster.

More than 4,000 family members and followers of the Evangelical Baptist Church streamed in to the sprawling compound owned by the Christian sect in Anseong, about 80 kilometers south of Seoul, for the two-day funeral service of Yoo Byung-eun.

Yoo — the co-founder of the sect and an ex-convict — was found dead on a remote mountain in southern South Korea in June, two months after he was put on a wanted list in connection with the April 16 sinking of the Sewol that left more than 300 people, mostly high school students, dead or missing.

The official schedule for Yoo’s funeral began at 10 a.m. Saturday, with his immediate family members, including those who have been temporarily released from prison for the funeral, greeting mourners at an auditorium inside the compound.

Members of the religious group, also known as the Salvation Sect, sang hymns as they watched video clips of the deceased on giant screens set up inside the auditorium.

The service came to a close at around 2 p.m. with the burial of Yoo’s body at a hill overlooking the compound. The late owner was buried next to the church’s other co-founder and his father-in-law, Kwon Sin-chan.

The service was closed to outsiders and the media, as the church followers, in black suits, guarded the front gate of the church retreat.

A church spokesman earlier warned there will be legal action against any media outlets that take pictures inside of the compound or from the air during the funeral.

Four family members — his eldest son, wife, younger brother and brother-in-law — were arrested on various corruption charges that officials said had contributed to the disaster and the high death toll. They were temporarily released from jail to attend the funeral.

They will return to prison later on Sunday, prosecution officials said.

Police said they have dispatched nearly 90 officers for close-distance surveillance of the four family members. Authorities have also dispatched some 400 guards to oversee the religious compound in case of an emergency situation.

The 6,825-ton ferry Sewol sank off the country’s southwest coast, leaving 294 people dead, mostly high school students on a school excursion. As of Sunday, 10 people remained unaccounted for.

Some of the relatives of the ferry victims have been camping out in downtown Seoul for weeks, demanding that the parliament pass a “special” bill aimed at uncovering the cause of one of the country’s worst maritime disasters.

The ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy have so far struck two successive deals on the bill, but both have been rejected by the bereaved families.

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