|Murder trial begins for S Korea ferry captain and crew
With South Korean divers still searching for victims of April's ferry disaster, the murder trial of 15 crew members has opened in a highly-charged atmosphere that raised concerns about a fair hearing.
The trial began in the southern city of Gwangju in a packed courtroom which included grieving relatives of some of the 292 confirmed victims of the April 16 tragedy.
Captain Lee Joon-Seok and three senior crew members are accused of ''homicide through willful negligence'' -- a charge that falls between first-degree murder and manslaughter, but still carries the death penalty.
Eleven other members of the crew are being tried on lesser charges of criminal negligence.
Wearing numbered prison uniforms, handcuffed and with their arms bound to their waists with rope, the defendants were taken to the courthouse well before the trial began.
The bulk of the charges arise from the fact that Lee and the others chose to abandon the 6,825-tonne Sewol ferry while hundreds of people were still trapped inside the heavily-listing vessel before it capsized.
A handful of crew members who stayed and tried to guide passengers to safety were among those who died.
The Sewol was carrying 476 passengers, including 325 students on a school trip, when it sank off the southwest coast.
So far 292 have been confirmed dead, with 12 still unaccounted for as divers continue to search the submerged vessel for remaining bodies.
Separately, a nationwide manhunt is still underway for Yoo Byung-Eun, the fugitive patriarch of the family behind Chonghaejin Marine Co -- the company that owned and operated the Sewol.
Yoo is wanted for questioning on possible charges of embezzlement and criminal negligence.--AFP