SEOUL, Nov. 1 (Reuters) – South Korea on Tuesday calmed public outcry over a crush on a Halloween party that killed more than 150 people, most of them young, and promised a swift and intensive investigation and called for strict new security measures to prevent similar disasters.
The death toll from the crush at a crowded Halloween street party on Saturday rose to 156 with 151 injured, 29 of whom were in serious condition. The dead included at least 26 civilians from 14 countries.
Tens of thousands of revelers — many in their teens and twenties and dressed in costume — had gathered in the narrow streets and alleys of the popular Itaewon neighborhood for the first virtually unlimited Halloween festivities in three years.
The country’s chief security officer, Interior Minister Lee Sang-min, apologized on Tuesday and promised to determine the cause of the incident and prevent similar cases from happening again.
“As a minister overseeing public safety, I sincerely apologize for the incident,” Lee said, adding that the government had “unlimited responsibility for the safety of our people” while addressing a parliamentary session. which was broadcast live.
He faced sharp public criticism after he said deploying more police would not have prevented the disaster.
National Police Commissioner Yoon Hee-keun acknowledged earlier on Tuesday that crowd control on the ground was “inadequate”, noting that police had received multiple reports warning of potential accidents on the night of the disaster.
“The police will quickly and rigorously conduct intensive inspections and investigations into all aspects without exception to explain the truth of this accident,” Yoon told a news conference.
Prime Minister Han Duck-soo also said the ongoing investigation would be about whether the responses from government agencies on the ground were adequate. He pointed to institutional crowd management measures as the cause of the deadly wave.
President Yoon Suk-yeol has declared a week of national mourning over the country’s too many security disasters. He said better responses were critical, including better crowd control.
“We need to come up with concrete security measures to control crowds, not only in these streets where this massive disaster happened, but also in other places such as stadiums and concert halls where large crowds gather,” he said at a cabinet meeting.
All victims have been identified and memorial altars have been erected in Seoul City Hall and Itaewon district, where citizens paid their respects.
Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Hyonhee Shin; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Gerry Doyle
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