South Korea’s parliament approves new investigations into crowd crushing and Marine deaths

Tens of thousands of people gathered to enjoy the first post-pandemic holiday celebrations in Seoul’s popular Itaewon entertainment district on October 29, 2022.

But the night turned deadly as revelers poured into a narrow, sloping alley between bars and clubs, with a lack of effective crowd control measures leading to a crowd crush that left 158 ​​people dead and hundreds injured.

Parliament – controlled by the opposition that won a landslide victory in April’s parliamentary elections – passed the bill in a bipartisan manner with 256 votes in favor, three abstentions and no votes against.

President Yoon Suk Yeol vetoed a similar bill passed in January without his party’s support.

This time, the parties reached a compromise by amending the previous bill to remove direct investigative powers from the nine-member panel that looked into the disaster, a task that could take up to 15 months.

The bill to launch a new investigation follows the convictions of two former senior police officers in February for destroying evidence linked to the collision – the first police officers to be convicted over the disaster.

Kim Kwang-ho, former head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, is on trial for professional negligence.

The ex-police chief denied wrongdoing and told the court on Monday: “Instead of looking for a scapegoat, real preventive measures must be taken,” broadcaster JTBC reported.

District-level officials have been prosecuted over the disaster, but no senior government leader has resigned or been prosecuted, despite criticism from victims’ families about a lack of accountability.

Research into the death of the sea

Also on Thursday, by a vote of 168 to 0, which was largely boycotted by the ruling party, parliament passed a bill to open a special investigation into how the military handled the death of a young marine last year completed.

The 20-year-old died during flood relief work, reports said he had not been given a life jacket.

The incident became an electoral liability for the ruling People Power Party (PPP) after Seoul’s former defense minister was appointed ambassador to Australia while an investigation was ongoing. He later resigned.

Lawmaker Yun Jae-ok, the leader of the PPP, said he has no choice but to ask Yoon to veto the bill.

The presidential office expressed “great regret” over the passage of the bill regarding the Navy, criticizing it for being politically motivated and exploiting the victim’s death.

“The presidential office will respond sternly in the future,” Chung Jin-suk, the president’s chief of staff, told reporters.

South Korea’s rapid transformation from a war-torn country to Asia’s fourth-largest economy and a global cultural power is a source of national pride.

But a series of preventable accidents and disasters involving young people – such as the 2022 disaster and the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking that killed 304 people – have shaken public confidence in authorities.