South Korea in grief-stricken limbo over ferry tragedy

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Stunned by a ferry disaster involving hundreds of missing schoolchildren, South Korea has gone into shocked limbo with political campaigns suspended, TV shows and concerts cancelled and vigils held to register grief at the unfolding tragedy.

The 6,825-tonne ferry carrying 475 people, mostly high school students on a school trip, sank off the country’s southwest on Wednesday.

Nearly 30 bodies have been recovered and more than 260 people are still missing with search efforts making little progress.

As images of victims and distraught families fuelled the nationwide mood of despair, major TV stations stopped airing dozens of prime-time soap operas and popular entertainment shows — especially any involving music and dance.

They were replaced with special news coverage of the accident or documentaries.

“This is no time for laughter or joy. We plan to mourn the victims in as sombre a mood as possible,” Han Kyung-Chun, a producer at KBS TV station, told the Daily Sports newspaper.

The country’s two main parties imposed a temporary ban on political campaigning related to critical local elections in June.

Companies cancelled social business events, while provincial governments indefinitely suspended planned festivals, concerts and firework shows.

Dozens of K-pop stars and actors postponed the scheduled release of new albums or cancelled concerts and promotional events.

SM Entertainment — the country’s top music agency — suspended the planned release next week of the new album by its top boyband, EXO, indefinitely.

“The decision was made to mourn the victims and to pray for the missing to return safely,” the company said in a statement.

The country’s three beer brewers — Lotte, Oriental Brewery and Hite Jinro — pulled their party-oriented TV commercials.