South Korean lawmakers have impeached Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min over his agency’s failure in disaster planning and response to last year’s deadly crowd crush.
The impeachment officially holds the minister responsible for the death of at least 158 people and injury of 197 victims on the night of Oct. 29, after thousands of partygoers flocked to a narrow alley in Seoul’s Itaewon district.
Following the vote, Lee was suspended from his duties, with Vice Minister Han Chang-seob temporarily taking over as acting minister. The Constitutional Court will have 180 days to determine whether Lee will be permanently removed or regain his post.
Lee has since issued a statement expressing regret over the incident and revealed his intention to defend his case in the Constitutional Court.
Local authorities announced earlier that criminal charges will be sought against 23 officials for the lack of safety measures in the tragic event.
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An investigation team led by the National Police Agency found that police and officials failed to employ crowd-control measures despite anticipating huge gatherings on Halloween.
While the police anticipated a crowd of over 100,000 to arrive in Itaewon that day, only 137 officers were assigned to secure the area. Pedestrian safety had the least attention as most of the focus was reportedly given to monitoring narcotics use and violent crimes.
The involved officials were also faulted for initially ignoring calls for help and for failing to establish control of the scene.
According to investigators, people had warned of impending danger in the hours leading up to the tragedy. The first police squad to arrive at the scene showed up nearly 85 minutes after the deadly crush occurred.
The crowd crush has been widely condemned in the country, with many calling it a “man-made disaster.”
According to critics, the incident could have been prevented with simple measures such as employing more police and public workers, enforcing one-way walk lanes, and blocking narrow pathways.