To the orange light of the candles is added the black and white of the signs. A week after the dramatic stampede in Seoul, candlelight vigils and other commemorations were held Saturday in South Korea, in memory of the 156 people killed, crushed and asphyxiated in a crowd movement during the Halloween party. The victims, mostly young people, were among some 100,000 people who came to the Itaewon district to celebrate Halloween for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
But in addition to sadness, anger is brewing in South Korea after one of the deadliest disasters to hit that country. Thousands of people gathered in central Seoul on Saturday for a candlelight vigil organized by a citizens’ group linked to South Korea’s main opposition party, with many placards calling on President Yoon Suk-yeol to resign . Police authorities have admitted deploying an insufficient number of officers for such a crowd, and the opposition is now accusing President Yoon Suk-yeol’s government of failing to take responsibility.
In Itaewon, at a subway exit near the site of the Halloween disaster, a flood of tributes in the form of white flowers and post-it notes could be seen. On one of them was written: “I will not let you go next time”. On another: “I will remember you forever”. The mourners also left chocolates, beer, soju (a Korean alcoholic drink) and strawberry milk.
Image of public anger as a woman was seen tearing up wreaths placed on a memorial by the president and mayor of Seoul on Friday. “What’s the use of (these flowers) since they couldn’t protect (our children)? exclaimed this woman presented by a local media as the mother of one of the victims of the stampede. “What’s the use of standing near these (crowns) when they left our babies to die? “, she still castigated in front of the cameras of a local television. Police officers were then seen moving him away from the memorial in front of Seoul City Hall.
President Yoon was there on Friday along with other officials who apologized for the disaster, including the national police chief and interior minister. “As the president responsible for the lives and safety of the people, I am deeply saddened and sorry,” he said then. “I know that our government and I (…) have an enormous responsibility to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again”.
The national mourning decreed in South Korea ends on Saturday, at the end of a week during which the flags were at half mast and the events canceled. How the Itaewon crowd was handled that night in Itaewon is under scrutiny as investigations attempt to elucidate the exact cause of the stampede. Transcripts of emergency calls show that many made hours before the disaster expressed growing concern over the dense crowds in Itaewon.
In the absence of a single organizer for the Halloween celebrations, the government had not asked bars, nightclubs and restaurants to submit a crisis management plan in a district made up of narrow alleys and sloping alleys . And although an unprecedented crowd of 100,000 people was estimated, the police had deployed only 137 officers in Itaewon, while at the same time some 6,500 police were mobilized in another part of the city for an anti-government demonstration in smaller size.
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