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South Korea seeks coronavirus murder charges against church leaders

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Lee knelt and apologised to the country on Monday that one church member had infected many others, calling the epidemic a "great calamity".

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The Seoul government asked prosecutors to launch a murder investigation into leaders of the church, a movement that reveres founder Lee Man-hee.

[SEOUL] South Korea sought murder charges against leaders of a secretive church at the heart of its ballooning coronavirus outbreak on Monday as the global death toll rose above 3,000 and the Chinese province at the epicentre reported a fall in new cases.

Of the new cases in South Korea, 377 were from the city of Daegu, home to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, to which most of South Korea's cases have been traced after some members visited China's Wuhan city where the disease emerged.

The Seoul government asked prosecutors to launch a murder investigation into leaders of the church, a movement that reveres founder Lee Man-hee. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said that if Lee and other heads of the church had cooperated, preventive measures could have stopped fatalities.

"The situation is this serious and urgent, but where are the leaders of the Shincheonji, including Lee Man-hee, the chief director of this crisis?" Mr Park said on Facebook late on Sunday.

Seoul's city government said it had filed a criminal complaint with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office, asking for an investigation of Lee and 12 others on charges of murder and disease control act violations.

Lee knelt and apologised to the country on Monday that one church member had infected many others, calling the epidemic a "great calamity". "We did our best but were not able to stop the spread of the virus," Lee told reporters.

It was not immediately known how many of South Korea's dead were directly connected to the church.

In the largest outbreak outside China, South Korea has had 26 deaths and reported another 599 infections on Monday, taking its tally to 4,335 following Saturday's biggest daily jump.

Of the new cases in South Korea, 377 were from the city of Daegu, home to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, to which most of South Korea's cases have been traced after some members visited China's Wuhan city where the disease emerged.

REUTERS