Thousands of people gathered near Seoul City Hall on Saturday to commemorate the 156 people killed in a Halloween mob in Itaewon last weekend.
Christian and Buddhist leaders took to the stage, demanding the resignation of President Yoon Suk-yeol and asking how the country could grieve without knowing the truth behind the deaths.
People of all ages, including foreign nationals, were present with signs reading “People are dying, do you call this a country?” and “Your resignation is our sorrow”.
A separate candlelight vigil was held nearby by groups of progressive youth, where they chanted, “It could have been avoided, the state wasn’t there. They could have been saved, Yoon Suk-yeol takes the blame.
The mostly young victims were among nearly 100,000 people who flocked to Itaewon’s popular nightlife district to celebrate the first post-pandemic Halloween.
South Korean law enforcement officials have acknowledged insufficient security planning and opposition politicians have accused the government of failing to take responsibility for the disaster.
Reflecting that anger, a woman identified by local media as the mother of one of the victims was seen tearing flower wreaths left by the president and mayor of Seoul at a memorial on Friday.
“What is the point of [these flowers] when they couldn’t protect [our children]? Think about it,” she was seen saying in footage broadcast by local TV stations. “What’s the use of standing next to these [wreaths] when you let our babies die?
Uniformed police were seen escorting the woman away from the memorial, located outside Seoul City Hall.
On Friday, Yoon expressed his “deep sadness and sorry heart”, stopping short of the blunt apology many of his critics are demanding. “I know that our government and I…have a huge responsibility to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again,” he said.
Yoon of the conservative People Power party has struggled with record approval ratings since taking office in May, and his political opponents are now targeting his government over the Halloween crush.
A civic group linked to the main opposition party was due to hold candlelight vigils across the country on Saturday night, including in Seoul, Busan, Gwangju and Jeju.
A group of young Koreans held a separate commemoration in central Seoul.
“I can’t believe people my age have died just because they wanted to have fun on Halloween,” said Park Tae-hoon, 29, one of the rally’s organizers and a member of the Jinbo progressive political party.
“It was only yesterday that the president apologized,” he said, adding that the purpose of the march was to demand punishment for those responsible and action to prevent tragedy from happening. reproduce.
South Korea is in a period of national mourning which ends on Saturday, with flags at half mast and entertainment events cancelled.
Public scrutiny of how the Halloween crowds were handled is intensifying and an extensive investigation is underway into the cause of the crash.
With no single organizer for the Halloween celebrations, the government has not asked any of the bars, clubs and restaurants – some located in Itaewon’s narrow lanes and side streets – to submit a management plan. of security.
Although police estimated in advance that a crowd of 100,000 would attend, they deployed 137 officers – compared to 6,500 sent to another part of Seoul that night for a much smaller anti-government protest.