Anger mounts over police response to Seoul Halloween tragedy


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A woman yells at police officers Thursday near the site where a crushing crowd in Seoul killed at least 156 people. The government and police response to the tragedy is under increasing scrutiny. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

A woman yells at police officers Thursday near the site where a crushing crowd in Seoul killed at least 156 people. The government and police response to the tragedy is under increasing scrutiny. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

SEOUL, Nov. 3 (UPI) — As South Korea continues to mourn the Halloween crowd crush tragedy that killed at least 156 people, scrutiny of the police and government response is growing — along with public anger.

On Tuesday, South Korea’s National Police Agency released transcripts of 11 calls to its 112 emergency hotline that warned of dangerous crowding conditions hours before the disaster.

Several of the desperate callers described people being crushed, while another pleaded for help, saying, “I really think someone’s going to die.” Police, however, only responded in person to four of the calls.

While an estimated 100,000 revelers descended on the popular nightlife district of Itaewon for Halloween festivities on Saturday, it was revealed that police dispatched just 137 officers to the neighborhood. A much larger contingent had been deployed to a nearby protest against President Yoon Suk-yeol on the same evening.

Frustration and outrage were clearly on display alongside grief on Thursday, as crowds continued to gather around a makeshift memorial that has been up since Sunday near the site.

“I feel really sad for the people who died here,” said Lee Seo-yeon, 21, carrying a white flower to leave at the site. “There should have been more police in Itaewon to prevent this.”

An older woman approached police stationed outside the alley where the tragedy occurred and angrily confronted them.

“How could such a thing happen in a country known as an economic superpower?” she yelled. “So many people died in the center of the city, right next to where the president lives. The people who are accountable should resign, all of them.”

Another man joined in, demanding to know what the police were doing during the hours of the incident.

The National Police on Thursday announced they were requesting a probe into the head of the nearby Yongsan Police Station and an officer who was monitoring the situation at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, both of whom are accused of neglecting their duties.

On Tuesday, national police chief Yoon Hee-keun acknowledged his agency’s shortcomings in the event and said during a press briefing that he feels a “heavy responsibility” for the tragedy.

South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo told international reporters Tuesday that the accident “should not have happened” and declared that a government investigation would reveal what went wrong in the response and hold those at fault accountable.

Han, however, drew criticism online for his casual demeanor during the press conference, with Twitter users slamming an attempt to make a joke. The prime minister issued an apology the next day saying: “Regardless of the circumstances, I apologize for making people uncomfortable.”

Most of those who were killed in the Itaewon disaster were in their late teens, 20s and 30s. Many observers have drawn parallels to the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry in which 306 died, mostly high school students, as anguished questions swirl about how South Korea could once again fail to protect its young people.

One sign left at the memorial could only ask for forgiveness for the older generation.

“How hard this must have been, at such a young age,” it read. “This is the adults’ fault. Please forgive us and rest in peace.”

Mourners visit the Itaewon nightlife district in Seoul on October 31, 2022, where a surging crowd killed at least 154 people and injured 149 others on the Friday night before, during Halloween celebrations. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo





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