01 November 2022

South Korea police admit ‘heavy responsibility’ for Halloween tragedy

01 November 2022

South Korea’s police chief admitted “a heavy responsibility” for failing to prevent a recent crowd surge that killed more than 150 people during Halloween festivities in Seoul.

The commissioner general of the Korean National Police Agency said on Tuesday officers did not effectively handle earlier emergency calls about the impending disaster.

The admission came as the South Korean government faces growing public scrutiny over whether the crowd surge on Saturday night in Seoul’s Itaewon district, a popular nightlife neighbourhood, could have been prevented and who should take the responsibility for the country’s worst disaster in years.

“I feel a heavy responsibility (for the disaster) as the head of one of related government offices,” Yoon Hee Keun, commissioner general of the Korean National Police Agency, told a televised news conference. “Police will do their best to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.”

Mr Yoon said an initial investigation has found that there were many urgent calls by citizens notifying authorities about the potential danger of a crowd gathering in Itaewon, but officers who had received those calls did not respond to them in a satisfactory manner.

Mr Yoon said police have subsequently launched an internal probe to look deeper into the officers’ handling of the emergency calls and other issues like their on-the-spot response to the crowd surge in Itaewon at that night.

The disaster — which left at least 156 people dead and 151 others injured — was concentrated in a downhill, narrow alley in Itaewon. Witnesses described people falling on one another, suffering severe breathing difficulties and falling unconscious.

They also recalled rescuers and ambulances failing to reach the crammed alleys in time because the entire Itaewon area was extremely packed with slow-moving vehicles and a crowd of partygoers clad in Halloween costumes.

After the disaster, police launched a 475-member taskforce to find its cause.

Senior police officer Nam Gu-Jun told reporters on Monday that officers have obtained videos taken by about 50 security cameras in the area and were analysing video clips posted on social media. He said police have also interviewed more than 40 witnesses and survivors so far.

The death toll could rise as officials said that 29 of the injured were in serious condition. The dead included some 26 foreign nationals from Iran, China, Russia, the United States, Japan and elsewhere.

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