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June 24, 2017

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Murder trial of Sewol captain and crew starts

GWANGJU, South Korea -- The highly charged trial of 15 crew members from South Korea's ferry disaster began Tuesday to shouts of "murderers" from victims' relatives who called for the defendants to be executed.

With divers still searching the submerged vessel for bodies and emotions sky-high less than two months after the tragedy, there are concerns over how fair the trial in the southern city of Gwangju will be.

The Sewol ferry was carrying 476 passengers — including 325 high school students — when it capsized and sank on April 16.

So far 292 have been confirmed dead, with 12 still unaccounted for.

Captain Lee Joon-seok and three senior crewmembers are accused of "homicide through willful negligence" which 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 brought to the courthouse well before the trial began.

They eventually entered the courtroom to angry cries from some relatives, prompting a warning from one of the three judges that the hearing would be halted if there were further disturbances.

Outside the courthouse, other relatives demonstrated with placards, one of which appealed to the judges to "let the family members execute them."

The bulk of the charges arise from the fact that Lee and the others chose to abandon the 6,825-tonne ferry while hundreds of people were still trapped inside the heavily listing vessel before it capsized.

A handful of crewmembers who stayed and tried to guide passengers to safety were among those who died.

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