Seoul, South Korea — Halloween celebrations in South Korea were quiet on the eve of the anniversary of the horrific stampede that claimed the lives of around 160 people.
Many restaurants, bars, department stores and amusement parks are avoiding Halloween-themed events as a sign of respect for the victims. Few people dressed in Halloween costumes were seen in Seoul’s popular Itaewon district, where last year’s deadly surge took place when large numbers of revelers and others filled a alley, causing them to fall on top of each other like dominoes.
The walls of Itaewon’s narrow, sloping alley were covered with numerous post-it notes with condolence messages, while white flowers were left on the ground.
Authorities have deployed thousands of police, emergency workers and others since Friday to control crowds and ensure pedestrian safety in Itaewon and 15 other major Seoul nightlife districts. About 200 police officers were separately mobilized to monitor drug use and violent crimes, according to Seoul police.
“I once again offer my sincere apologies, carrying in my heart the sadness and heavy responsibility for the disaster,” Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said in a statement on Friday. “The way to overcome the pain and grief caused by the disaster is to prevent this kind of incident from happening again. »
Bereaved families are expected to hold an official memorial service on Sunday.
In January, a special police investigation team concluded that police and city officials failed to implement effective crowd control measures, even though they correctly anticipated the large number of people in Itaewon. Investigators also concluded that police ignored phone calls from pedestrians who warned of increasing crowds before the surge became deadly.
The Itaewon crush sparked an outpouring of grief across the country, with the dead mostly aged between 20 and 30. There was also anger that the government had once again ignored safety and regulatory issues despite lessons learned since the Sewol ferry sinking in 2014, which killed 304 people – most of them teenagers at the time. of a school trip.
Authorities have attempted to overhaul the country’s security systems and response protocols since the Itaewon tragedy. But security incidents keep happening.
“First of all, the problem is that there were only temporary measures whenever certain incidents occurred,” said Park Sangin, a professor at Seoul National University. “Also, the biggest problem is that there is no clear accountability for them. »
When police announced the results of the investigation into the Itaewon stampede in January, they said they were pursuing criminal charges, including manslaughter and negligence, against 23 officials. But no high-level officials were present. Most of the 23 officials are still on trial.
In February, South Korea’s opposition-controlled parliament voted to dismiss Security Minister Lee Sang-min following the Itaewon disaster. But the Constitutional Court in July overturned Lee’s indictment.
The victims’ families and their supporters have called on President Yoon Suk Yeol to offer a more sincere apology and agree to a thorough and independent investigation.
“The attitude of the government and the ruling party inflicts deeper and more painful scars on us,” the families said in a joint statement. “We just want to know the fundamental reasons why, on October 29, 2022, thousands of people fell, 159 of them died, and thousands more were injured or ended up living with trauma.” ,
The families said they invited Yoon to attend Sunday’s memorial. Local media reported that Yoon decided not to go because he feared the event would be used by opposition politicians.