Stampede in South Korea: Protests in Seoul demand justice for the victims
- Tessa Wong
Holding white candles and black banners, mourners gathered across Seoul to mourn the victims of the onslaught in the South Korean capital and to censure the country’s government.
As public anger continued to mount over South Korea’s biggest tragedy in nearly a decade, thousands attended numerous vigils and protests across the capital.
On October 29, a stampede during Halloween celebrations in the popular nightlife district of Itaewon killed 156 people – mostly young people – and injured 196 others.
A week later, authorities launched an investigation and raided city offices, local police and fire stations.
The national police chief issued an apology, as did President Yoon Seok-yeol, who vowed to improve crowd control procedures in the future.
But that wasn’t enough to quench the public’s thirst for justice. Many feel deeply ashamed that authorities have failed to protect their youth – a paradox for a country known for its youthful K-pop image on the international stage.
On Saturday, activists and political groups rode that wave of anger through the capital with no fewer than seven vigils.
The largest booth was organized by Candlelight Action, a coalition of progressive groups that had been organizing regular political protests against President Yoon before the Itaewon tragedy.
The vigil took place near City Hall, where two lanes of a main road were closed to accommodate tens of thousands of protesters. Many carried black protest banners that read “Resignation is an expression of condolences” in a message addressed to President Yun.
On stage, speakers took turns criticizing the government in sermons punctuated by sad performances and prayers, followed by Buddhist monks.
“Although the government clearly bears responsibility, it is looking for perpetrators of crimes from independent organizations… the incident occurred because the government failed to play its leading role,” said one of the speakers.
“Yeon Seok Yeol government! Resign, Yoon Seok Yeol government!” the crowd shouted, waving their candles and banners.
Earlier in the day, 200 protesters from various political youth groups gathered near the scene of the accident in Itaewon.
They wore black clothes and masks and held signs that read: “At 6:34 the country was not there [بجانب الضحايا]”.
It was an indication of the timing of the first 911 call to police, hours before the stampede actually happened. A total of 11 calls were made that night.
After observing a minute’s silence overlooking the alley, they bowed their heads and the group silently walked down the busy main street in Itaewon.
They carried white chrysanthemums – the symbol of sadness in Korean culture – and black banners that read: “We could have saved the victims and the government must recognize their responsibility.”
“I was sad at first. But now I’m angry. I’m here because this incident could have been prevented. These people were about my age,” said 22-year-old university student Kang Hee Joo.
At their last stop, a war memorial, young activists took turns giving speeches.
A speaker said: “This society is not normal, we are not safe. The government is failing in its responsibility, it has thrown it on the youth… What lesson have we learned from the Seoul incident?” Regarding the 2014 ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people, most of them schoolchildren .
“They always promise change with every election. But why is there always a social catastrophe? That’s what young people are asking,” he added.
Back at City Hall, a sea of candles flickered as night fell, bathing the masked faces of the demonstrators in warm light. Many of them were middle-aged or elderly.
Yeom Seung-won, who has two children, remembers the Seol incident well.
“It was very sad. It’s unbelievable that this is happening again. That’s why I came here,” said the 59-year-old architect with tears in his eyes. “I’m heartbroken, it just doesn’t make sense,” he added.
“The government ignored them. It must protect its citizens and ensure their safety no matter what,” he added.
#Stampede #South #Korea #Protests #Seoul #demand #justice #victims