South Korea mourns victims of Halloween stampede

South Korea mourns victims of Halloween stampede


South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Monday unveiled a memorial for the victims of the Halloween stampede in Seoul, whose death toll now stands at 154, as criticism begins to pour in against the authorities accused of laxity in the management of the crowd on the evening of the tragedy.

The head of state and his wife each laid a white flower in front of the huge black altar erected in the center of Seoul in tribute to the victims of the disaster on Saturday evening. The public was then allowed to file in front of the monument to pay their respects, some in tears.

In the Itaewon district, where the deadly crowd movement occurred, passers-by stopped to pray and lay flowers and bottles of alcohol as an offering in front of another memorial, improvised in front of a metro station.

On the internet and in the press, criticism was fired against the authorities on Monday and information about potential lack of police preparation on the evening of the tragedy began to circulate.

About 100,000 people, most of them in their twenties, dressed up for Halloween, had converged on Saturday on Itaewon, a district of bars and nightclubs made up of a maze of narrow, steeply sloping alleys along a main avenue. Witnesses described a complete lack of measures to channel or control this huge crowd.

Police acknowledged on Monday that they only deployed 137 officers to Itaewon on Saturday night, while stressing that this figure was higher than those for Halloween parties in previous years. Local media pointed out that most of these police were there to prevent drug use, not to channel the party crowd.

“It's a disaster that could have been controlled or prevented,” Lee Young-ju, a professor from Seoul University's fire and disaster department, told YTN. “But nobody cared about it, and especially nobody took their responsibilities”, he lamented.

The police criticized

< p>On social media, many users accused the police of completely failing to control the crowd, leaving too many people to crowd around Itaewon subway station and in the alleys where the stampede occurred deadly.

“I've been living in Itaewon for ten years and have seen Halloween parties every year, but yesterday's one drew way more people than the previous ones,” said Twitter user @isakchoi312, also pointing to the absence of any control measure.

The South Korean government has denied any laxity. The stampede “was not a problem that could have been solved by deploying police or firefighters in advance,” Interior Minister Lee Sang-min said at a press briefing on Sunday. p>

The South Korean police are however masters in crowd control, in a country where the numerous and frequent demonstrations are often supervised by a number of agents greater than that of the participants. But the organizers of political or labor demonstrations are required to declare their plans to the authorities in advance, which was not the case for the young people who came to participate in large numbers in the Halloween party in Itaewon.

< p>Witnesses described scenes of chaos and horror in the sloping alleyway just three meters wide, where thousands of revelers began pushing each other, falling on top of each other, choking and to panic, without any police presence.

The disaster left 154 dead, including 26 foreigners, according to the latest official report which could still increase, at least 33 injured people being in critical condition .

South Korea has entered a week of national mourning. Many concerts and other festive events have been canceled, and flags have been lowered across the country.