Itaewon crowd crush: Thousands join vigil as anger grows in South Korea

Itaewon crowd crush: Thousands join vigil as anger grows in South Korea

Thousands of mourners have gathered in South Korea’s capital for a candlelit vigil to honour the victims of the Halloween stampede and condemn the government’s response.

People gathered in downtown Seoul on Saturday holding candles and signs that read ‘resignation of President Yoon Suk Yeol’.

The event marked the end of a week of national mourning. A civic group has been holding weekly rallies against Yoon Suk Yeol’s administration.

The crowd surge on October 29, in the popular nightlife area of Itaewon, killed 156 and injured 187 partygoers, many whom were aged in their 20s and 30s. It was the first time in three years that Halloween celebrations had gone ahead.

Thousands attended a vigil in downtown Seoul (AFP via Getty Images)
Thousands attended a vigil in downtown Seoul (AFP via Getty Images)

As an investigation continues into what caused the crush, shoes, clothes and personal belongings of victims and survivors were laid out in a gym in Seoul to be collected by loved ones, in a sobering visual reminder of the tragedy.

National Police Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun on Tuesday acknowledged crowd control at the site of the disaster was “inadequate,” noting police had received multiple reports warning of possible accidents on the night of the surge.

Police dispatched only 137 officers to the neighborhood, where it’s understood more than 100,000 revellers were marking Halloween.

Transcripts of 11 calls received by South Korean police show the first warning of a possible deadly surge was made at 6.34pm by a member of the public who said: “Looks like you can get crushed to death.”

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

The country’s chief security officer, Interior Minister Lee Sang-min, apologised and vowed to find out the cause of the incident and prevent similar cases from recurring.

But many feel that is not enough for justice to be served.

On Saturday, activist and political groups organised at least seven vigil-protests across the capital where speakers criticised the government.

“Although the government clearly has responsibility, it is looking for perpetrators from irrelevant organisations… the incident occurred because the government did not play its very basic role,” one speaker said, according to the BBC.

The biggest vigil was organised by Candlelight Action, an alliance of progressive groups, which had been holding regular political protests against President Yoon even before the Itaewon tragedy.

A public survey taken after the disaster shows President Yoon’s approval rating is about 30 per cent, after he took office just six months ago, AP reports.