South Korea promises tough action, trying to quell anger over Halloween crush
SEOUL, Nov 1 (Reuters) – South Korea has calmed down public outrage on Tuesday over a Halloween crush that killed more than 150 people, most of them young, promising a swift and thorough investigation and calling for tough new security measures to prevent similar disasters.
The death toll from a crush at a packed Halloween street party on Saturday has risen to 156 with 151 injured, 29 of them seriously. Among the dead are at least 26 citizens from 14 countries.
Tens of thousands of revelers – many in their teens and twenties and dressed in costumes – crowded the narrow streets and alleys the popular district of Itaewon for the first almost unlimited Halloween celebrations in three years.
The country’s top security official, Interior Minister Lee Sang-min, apologized on Tuesday, promising to find out the cause of the incident and prevent similar cases from happening again.
“As the minister overseeing public safety, I express my sincere apologies for the incident,” Lee said, adding that the government had “an unlimited responsibility for the safety of our people” as he addressed a live-televised parliamentary session.
He came under fire from the public after he said that more police would not have prevented the disaster.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon also tearfully apologized during a media briefing and said the city’s government would put all available administrative resources “until every citizen can return to their normal lives.”
National Police Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun earlier on Tuesday admitted that crowd control at the scene was “inadequate”, noting that police had received multiple reports of possible accidents on the night of the disaster.
“The police will quickly and rigorously conduct intensive inspections and investigations on all aspects without exception to explain the truth about this accident,” Yoon said at a press conference.
Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said the ongoing investigation would include whether the responses of government agencies on the ground were adequate. He pointed to inadequate institutional crowd management measures as the cause of the deadly rush.
President Yoon Suk-yeol has declared a week of national mourning, saying the country has had too many security disasters. He said better responses are critical, including improved crowd control.
“We should come up with concrete security measures to manage the crowd, not only in these streets where this huge disaster happened, but also in other places like stadiums and concert halls where large crowds gather,” he said at a cabinet meeting.
All the victims have been identified and memorial altars have been set up at Seoul City Hall and in the Itaewon district, where citizens have paid their respects.
Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Hyonhee Shin; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Jacqueline Wong
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