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South Korea police admit failures at Itaewon stampede

November 1, 2022

Police have set up a 475-member task force as the president and prime minister call for new safety measures to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.

Police cordoning off the site of the Itaewon crowd crush in Seoul
More than 150 people died following a crowd crush on Halloween in Seoul's Itaewon districtImage: Koji Ito/dpa/picture alliance

Authorities in South Korea on Tuesday admitted flaws in crowd control that contributed to a deadly stampede in Seoul's Itaewon district on Saturday night, as the death toll climbed to 156.

Police launched a 475-member task force to investigate how the tragedy occurred.

On Tuesday, police chief Yoon Hee-keun bowed before reporters and apologized for the incident. He said he felt "deeply responsible" for public safety and that crowd control on the night was "inadequate."

Yoon added there had been multiple calls to the country's emergency hotline before the deadly crush occurred in the tight streets of Itaewon.

Because the event was not an officially registered one with a designated organizer, neither police nor local authorities were assigned to crowd management in advance as they might have ordinarily.

He did not directly address questions as to whether or not he would resign, the Korea JoongAng Daily reported.

Yoon Hee-keun bowing at a press conference
Police chief Yoon Hee-keun apologized for the deadly Itaewon stampede on TuesdayImage: YONHAPNEWS AGENCY/picture alliance

South Korean leaders demand action

On Monday, Prime Han Duck-soo said the government would "thoroughly investigate the cause of the incident" to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol visited a memorial for the victims on Tuesday after declaring a week-long mourning period.

"We should come up with concrete safety measures to manage crowd, not only on these streets where this massive disaster took place but at other places like stadiums and concert venues where large crowds gather," he said at a Cabinet meeting.

Yoon Suk-yeol crouching to place a flower alongside hundreds of boquets
President Yoon Suk-yeol laid a flower for the victims of the Itaewon crush on TuesdayImage: Ahn Young-joon/AP/picture alliance

Two-thirds of the victims were in their 20s, and a majority were women.

President Yoon described people's safety as "important, whether or not there is an event organizer." He called for the country to develop "cutting-edge digital capabilities" to improve crowd management, though critics argue such tools already exist and were not used in Itaewon.

zc/msh (Reuters, AP)