South Korea’s Yoon blocks new investigation into 2022 Halloween crowd crush By Reuters


©Reuters. General view of the memorial altar for the victims before a press conference against the government’s decision to veto a special bill for the Itaewon disaster that killed over 150 people, in Seoul, South Korea, on 30 January 2024. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji


By Hyunsu Yim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday blocked a bill seeking to launch a new investigation into the Halloween mob that killed 159 people in Seoul’s Itaewon district in 2022, in a move criticized by the opposition and the relatives of the victims.

Yoon’s office announced his veto of conducting an investigation with an independent committee hours after the prime minister described the opposition-backed bill as politicized and potentially in violation of the constitution.

“The pain caused by the disaster cannot be used as a tool to justify political conflicts and a possibility of unconstitutionality,” Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said at a cabinet meeting, denying that an earlier investigation by police and the public ministries was flawed.

The move to block the bill was criticized by relatives of the victims and opposition party officials who have long argued that the government’s handling of the disaster was inadequate.

Park Young-soo, a mother who lost her son in the mob, accused the government of being “mean” by blocking the investigation and instead offering financial compensation.

“It’s not what we’ve been fighting for for more than a year,” Park told Reuters.

Song Hae-jin, another mother of a victim, said families who tried to get justice for their children would have a “very difficult time” accepting the government’s position.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee said last year that South Korea should set up an independent and impartial body to investigate the disaster and ensure those responsible are brought to justice, including senior officials.

Song Doo-hwan, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, South Korea’s main human rights watchdog, also supported an independent investigation.

Lee Jae-myung, South Korea’s main opposition leader, called the Yoon administration “cold-blooded” for blocking the bill.

A police investigation published early last year concluded that a lack of preparations and an inadequate response were the main cause of the deadly collision.

No high-level government figures, including the minister of interior and security, however, resigned or were fired as a result of the mob.

Prosecutors earlier this month indicted the head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, accusing him of negligently contributing to the disaster.

The special bill presented by parliament planned to include a commission appointed by the ruling party, the opposition and relevant groups to conduct a fact-finding investigation.

The bill was supported by opposition parties but criticized by the ruling People Power Party (PPP), which said the committee was biased in favor of the opposition.

Yoon won elections in 2022, but his PPP is a minority in parliament, controlled by the rival Democratic Party. The next general election will be held in April.

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