Riot police spray protesters in Seoul
Riot police spray South Korean protesters with a water cannon in front of the main gate to the Gyeongbok Palace, in Seoul Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

A protest over the South Korean government's handling of the Sewol ferry disaster held in Seoul country's capital turned violent on Saturday night (18 April).

Police deployed a water cannon and pepper spray in an attempt to disperse thousands of protesters who took to the streets of the city to demonstrate against the government's handling of the tragedy.

More than 250 students were on the overloaded Sewol ferry when it sank off South Korea's southwest coast on 16 April, 2014, killing 304 people.

An unnamed official from the National Police Agency said around 80 people were being questioned over the demonstration, and 20 others who had been detained were released.

The protesters, led by relatives of the victims, had tried to march to the presidential Blue House, but the road was blocked by over 70 police buses, which were vandalised during clashes between protesters and police.

A fire department official said nine protesters and three police were taken to hospital, with another three protesters treated onsite.

Missing victims

Nine people caught up in the ferry disaster still remain unaccounted for. South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced on the anniversary of the disaster that efforts will continue to recover the missing victims.

The owners and operators of the vessel have been blamed for illegally redesigning the ship, and government authorities have also been seriously criticised by the victims' families over what they see as indifference in setting up a full-fledged independent panel to probe the incident.

All surviving crew members, including the passenger ferry's captain, were convicted of negligence after it was revealed they told passengers to remain in their cabins while the boat started to sink.