South Korean president calls for stricter measures after fatal crush

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People continue to leave flowers Tuesday for the victims of the fatal crowd surge in Seoul.

SEOUL — South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol directed his Cabinet ministers on Tuesday to work on stricter safety measures following the fatal crowd surge that killed more than 150 people during Halloween celebrations in Seoul.

“The government must implement measures through which similar accidents can be avoided,” Yoon said during a State Council meeting, calling for a drastic review of measures against such fatal accidents.

As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, 156 people had died, including two Japanese women, and about 150 had been injured. The casualties included more than 100 people in their 20s.

According to South Korea’s basic law on disaster and safety management, and its government’s guidelines for safety management based on the basic law, voluntary events without organizers do not have to notify police and fire authorities of their safety management plans in advance.

The Halloween-related celebrations in the Itaewon area of Seoul where the incident occurred did not have any organizers, making it ambiguous where the responsibility lay for safety management at the site.

Greater attendance than normal could easily have been predicted for this year’s events, held as they were following the lifting of COVID-19-related restrictions in South Korea.

According to a report by South Korea’s SBS TV, a police officer belonging to the Yongsan Police Station in the capital made an internal report to the station a few days before the accident, saying that more people than expected would gather in the area and there was a risk of accidents occurring.

However, only 137 personnel were dispatched to Itaewon by the police station and other authorities, and most of them were investigators focusing on preventing such crimes as theft and drug trafficking. As a result, there were no police officers at the scene who focused on controlling crowds.

On Saturday afternoon, demonstrations were reportedly held by left-wing civic organizations and others critical of the Yoon administration in locations including near the Gwanghwamun square in central Seoul. More than 100,000 people are said to have taken part.

South Korea’s laws and regulations require the organizers of demonstrations to notify police in advance. About 6,500 police officers in total were reportedly deployed to the protest sites.