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Who will be responsible for the lost lives in Itaewon?

 On October 30, 2022, Seoul, South Korea, emergency service personnel investigate in the alley at the scene of the Halloween stampede in Itaewon


  Itaewon, the most popular leisure area for foreign tourists in Seoul, a large-scale stampede occurred on the evening of October 29. As of November 13, 157 people were killed and 192 injured, most of whom were young people in their 20s and 30s. people. This is South Korea's deadliest public safety accident since the sinking of the "Shiyue" passenger ship in 2014.

  For a while, the police became the target of public criticism due to their suspected dereliction of duty and business negligence; Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon of the National Power Party, Prime Minister Han Deok-soo, President Yoon Seok-yue and others apologized one after another; civil sentiment was high, and a large number of protesters took to the streets of Seoul to demand that Yoon Seok-yue "Step down and apologize."

  The sudden tragedy has exacerbated political turmoil in South Korea. Yin Xiyue's government owes the people an explanation, and also owes an outlet for its ever-decreasing political career.

life and death


  Located in Yongsan District, Itaewon is a famous business district in Seoul, where many shops, bars and other entertainment venues gather. On the eve of Halloween, thousands of young men and women incarnated as vampires, princesses and superheroes came to this 1.4-kilometer-long block together.

  Lin Xiaomin has been in South Korea for more than a year. On the evening of October 29, she went to Itaewon for the first time.

  In April of this year, South Korea fully lifted the epidemic prevention restrictions. This Halloween party was the first "no mask outdoors" event in more than two years, so Itaewon was particularly lively that night. According to data from the Seoul Metro, the number of passengers at Itaewon Station on Line 6 exceeded 130,000 that day. In Seoul, where the average daily minimum temperature reaches 10°C in October, Lin Xiaomin felt that "the subway (inside) is like a steamer." Even so, she did not receive any alerts about the flow of people at the scene, and there were very few police officers on duty to maintain law and order.

  The Hamilton Hotel near Exit 1 of Itaewon Subway Station is next to a 4-meter-wide alley. This alley is a shortcut to trendy bars, restaurants and nightclubs, so most people who have just come out of the subway will go straight here.

  At around 22:20, Lin Xiaomin exited from Exit 2 of the subway station and followed the crowd towards the alley. At that time, she could still walk around normally, but because the flow of people was moving too slowly, Lin Xiaomin turned around and went to another street across the road.

  What Lin Xiaomin didn't know was that in the alley she passed, many people had already started to have difficulty breathing due to being squeezed. About 100,000 people gathered in Itaewon that night (the usual flow of people is about 20,000). Live video shows that in the area where the stampede accident occurred, there are 8 to 10 people per square meter of space. More than 300 people even stayed in a space about 5.7 meters long and 3 meters wide.

  According to eyewitnesses, around 22:30, the crowd began to dump. The alley was a steep slope, and the person involved described it: "The people at the bottom fell down like dominoes."

  After 22:30, Lin Xiaomin noticed the sirens of police cars and ambulances sounding nearby. But she didn't pay attention to it at the time, thinking that those were the police who came to prevent accidents, or something unexpected happened nearby. On the street where Lin Xiaomin is located, although it is also "people next to each other", fortunately, they can move around freely. People are immersed in the atmosphere of the Halloween party, drinking, taking pictures, and dancing. The music from bars and clubs far drowned people's cries for help. Lin Xiaomin across the street did not realize what the injured were going through at the moment.

  Later, Lin Xiaomin described Itaewon that night like this: half heaven, half hell.

  When Lin Xiaomin came out to meet up with friends in the early hours of the morning, the Itaewon neighborhood was already in a closed state, and the crowd on the opposite side had dispersed. There were bloody tissues all over the ground, and doctors and enthusiastic citizens were performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the victims. Lin Xiaomin heard from friends that more than 50 people had "cardiopulmonary arrest". But at the time, she felt that she could still be rescued, "I didn't expect so many people to die."

  Due to traffic control, the public transportation around Itaewon has also been affected. Lin Xiaomin can only walk for more than half an hour to take a bus elsewhere. Before leaving, she saw a row of young people lying on the ground, their bodies and faces were covered by blue cloth, and they seemed to have no signs of life.

  At 2 o'clock in the morning, when Lin Xiaomin was transferring at the Zhonglu bus station, he could still hear the siren of an ambulance from time to time. Lin Xiaomin felt sorry for the lost lives: "If the police could deploy their manpower in advance, perhaps the tragedy would not have happened."

hold accountable


  The disaster did not come without warning.

  At 18:34 on the day of the accident, the police received the first call to the police: "(Here) looks really dangerous, I am worried that people will be crushed to death." Less than two hours later, another caller called , saying that many people crowded in a narrow alley in Itaewon, and people kept falling and getting injured.

From the first person calling the police at 18:34 to the stampede accident at 22:15, the police received a total of 11 calls to the police, without exception, reminding the crowd of the crushing accident, but the police did nothing .


  From the first person calling the police at 18:34 to the stampede accident at 22:15, the police received a total of 11 calls to the police, without exception, reminding the crowd of the crushing accident, but the police did nothing .

  It was not until around 22:15 that the fire department and the police began to act after receiving reports of a large number of people being squeezed and having difficulty breathing. However, under the instruction of then director Li Imjae, the police officers from Yongsan Police Station did not arrive at the scene until 23:40, that is, 85 minutes later.

  Follow-up investigations pointed out that at around 22:00, Li Linzai had arrived near Noksaping Station, only about 10 minutes' walk from the incident site. However, Li Linzai stayed in the car on the grounds of road congestion, and did not arrive at the Itaewon Police Station until 23:5. At that time, the traffic around Itaewon was extremely congested, but Li Limjae insisted on driving his own car, so he arrived late.

  On November 7, 6 people, including Yongsan Police Chief Lee Im Jae, Yongsan Fire Department Chief Cui Sung-beom, and Yongsan District Director Park Hee-young, were investigated for the crime of official negligence causing death or injury.

  On the same day, South Korean President Yin Xiyue questioned the police at the "National Security System Inspection Conference": "During the 4 hours after receiving the first alarm, why did you just keep watching?" Answer.

  Many blame the tragedy, which claimed the lives of more than 150 people, largely on lax police supervision of the crowd. Generally, when there is a political protest, no matter how large or small, the police will have careful planning to keep the crowd manageable. When BTS held a performance with a scale of 55,000 people in South Korea, the police also dispatched 1,300 police officers to protect the safety of the people.

  However, on the evening of October 29, the police only deployed 137 police officers in Itaewon—most of whom were also ordered not to direct crowds, but to focus on crimes such as sexual harassment, theft, and drug use. Later, some police personnel said: The police do not have the authority to control the crowds that gather spontaneously—even though they knew that there would be a large number of crowds gathering early on, the police still did not prepare basic countermeasures.

Follow-up investigations found that after the accident, some people destroyed the warning document about the "possible accident when people gather in Itaewon on holidays". On November 12, a 55-year-old police officer who was investigated for allegedly deleting reports related to the Itaewon stampede accident was found dead at home, suspected of committing suicide.
  After the stampede, South Korean public opinion demanded accountability. On November 5, the night when the national mourning period ended, civic groups pro-opposition held "candlelight actions" in Seoul, Busan, Jeju and other places to mourn the victims and protest against the mishandling of the police. "This is obviously a man-made disaster," Park Ji-hyun, the former leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, also said on social media. "The government must take responsibility for failing to control the crowd."
  But South Korea's Minister of Interior and Security has another rhetoric. On October 30, Lee Sang-min said: "This accident is not a problem that can be solved by dispatching police and firefighters to the scene in advance... No matter how many (police forces) are deployed, this disaster cannot be avoided."
  Lee Sang-min said that the police and security forces Mainly used for gatherings in the city center, the police force that night was largely dispersed to various parts of Seoul. On the same day as the Itaewon accident, large-scale rallies of conservatives and progressives were held in Gwanghwamun, Seoul and other places.
  The leader of the opposition party pointed the finger at the president, pointing to Yin Xiyue as the "indirect murderer" of the incident. He believed that it was because Yin Xiyue moved the presidential residence to the Ministry of National Defense Building that the Yongsan Police Station spent an additional 700 policemen, resulting in rescue operations. Manpower shortage in Itaewon - On the night of the incident, only 200 police were present to support.
crisis

  On October 30, the haze in the early morning has not dissipated. People spontaneously laid flowers at Exit 1 of Itaewon Station to mourn the dead.
  On this day, Yin Xiyue also went to the alley where the stampede happened. But what he blurted out at the scene, "Did so many people die here?" was surprising. Some people questioned: "At the scene of the Itaewon tragedy, is this what the president should say?"
  In terms of comfort and investigation after the accident, Yin Xiyue's performance was average, and the praise rate of governance declined. But he is luckier than Park Geun-hye. The Park Geun-hye government failed to act quickly when the Sewol ferry sank in 2014, killing 304 people, mostly schoolchildren. Then Prime Minister Chung Hong-won took the blame and resigned, and then President Park Geun-hye's approval rating also declined. This accident eventually became one of the important triggers for Park Geun-hye's impeachment and resignation.
  Kim Do-yeon, a Seoul researcher at the Center for a New American Security, said: "This tragedy (Itaewon accident) may become a decisive test of the leadership and ability of the South Korean president, depending on how Yoon Suk-yue handles this incident and the nature of the stampede. The results of the investigation."
  However, even without the stampede, Yin Xiyue's situation is not very clear. In a recent poll by Gallup Korea, his approval rating remained at just 30 percent — a sharp drop from 51 percent when he took office in May. According to the interviewees, one of the important reasons is Yin Xiyue's diplomatic issues.
The leader of the opposition party pointed the finger at the president, pointing to Yin Xiyue as the "indirect murderer" of the incident. He believed that it was because Yin Xiyue moved the presidential residence to the Ministry of National Defense Building that the Yongsan Police Station spent an additional 700 policemen, resulting in rescue operations. There is a shortage of manpower in Itaewon.

  The United States is South Korea's most important security ally, sending about 27,000 troops to the South to help fend off nuclear-armed North Korea. In late September, Yin Xiyue went to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly and met with US President Biden. Later, in a video, Yin Xiyue criticized the US Congress with profanity (“These bastards, what if you don’t pass the bill and embarrass Biden?”) while talking to his aides. The video quickly racked up more than 2 million views on YouTube and became a trending topic on South Korean social media.
  After Yin Xiyue visited the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, her approval ratings continued to drop. According to Gallup's poll data, Yin Xiyue's support rate fell to 28% in the fourth week of September.
  Fortunately, on November 13, Yin Xiyue and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held the first official meeting between the leaders of Japan and South Korea in about three years in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and confirmed that they will maintain communication in the future. The day after the Itaewon accident, Kishida Fumio sent a message of condolences to Yin Xiyue, and said on Twitter that he was "very shocked and very sad." The recovery of South Korea-Japan relations has also been driven by this tragic factor, but former conscripted laborers, the biggest unresolved issue between the two countries, have not yet been resolved.
  The domestic situation in South Korea is also not optimistic. The partisan conflict in the country is also intensifying as Yoon Suk-yue has successively launched investigations into former President Moon Jae-in and the leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, Lee Jae-myung.
  At around 16:00 on October 22, progressive groups held a "National Concentrated Candlelight Parade to Urge the Formation of the Special Prosecution Team for the Kim Gun-hee Case and the Resignation of Yin Xiyue" on the streets of Seoul. Chung Nyeong-hee, the representative of Operation Candlelight, called for Yoon Seok-yue to step down and urged a special investigation of the president's wife, Kim Gun-hee, who is suspected of manipulating stock prices.
  It is estimated that more than 18,000 people participated in the rally that day, far exceeding the 7,000 people expected by the police. At the same time, conservative groups also held a rally 100 meters away. Although the two sides did not cause a major incident, according to Korean media reports, the police invested more than 6,500 police officers at that time and planned to expand the police force.
  On October 24, South Korean prosecutors searched the headquarters of the largest opposition party, the Common Democratic Party. Many of Li Zaiming's cronies were accused of illegally accepting 800 million won (approximately RMB 4 million) in political donations and using them for Li Zaiming's election campaign. The next day, Yin Xiyue delivered a policy speech in the National Assembly, and members of the Common Democratic Party were absent collectively in protest.
  Li Zongxun, a local political commentator, said: "The opposition will keep their eyes wide open and will not let go of any mistakes that can be exploited. This will put pressure on the government of Yin Xiyue."
  How the Itaewon stampede will end, not only the world is watching, Yin Xiyue's opponents are also watching closely.


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