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Obama offers deepest sympathy to South Korea

People gather at Danwon High School to mourn and pray with candles for students of the school who are among the missing passengers of a South Korean capsized ferry, in Ansan on April 17, 2014
People gather at Danwon High School to mourn and pray with candles for students of the school who are among the missing passengers of a South Korean capsized ferry, in Ansan on April 17, 2014

US President Barack Obama on Thursday offered "deepest sympathies" to the families of the victims of a ferry sinking in South Korea, from which nearly 300 people, mostly children, are missing.

"The bonds of friendship between the American and Korean people are strong and enduring," Obama said in a statement also offering the condolences of his wife Michelle.

"Our hearts ache to see our Korean friends going through such a terrible loss, especially the loss of so many young students.

"South Korea is one of our closest allies, and American Navy personnel and US Marines are already on the scene assisting with the search and rescue efforts."

Obama said he had directed the US military to provide any assistance needed in the coming days.

"As I will underscore on my visit to Seoul next week, America's commitment to our ally South Korea is unwavering -— in good times and in bad."

Obama will be in Seoul on April 25 and 26 as part of a four nation tour of Asia.

In one of South Korea's worst peacetime disasters, the ferry, carrying 475 people, capsized and sank on Wednesday.

Some 271 people are still unaccounted for, many of them schoolchildren on their way to the resort island of Jeju.

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