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South Korea’s president apologizes for deadly crowd turnout on Halloween

Yoon Suk-yeol also promises to hold accountable officials who failed to respond in time to the tragedy that killed at least 156 people.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has apologized for the deadly Halloween crush in Seoul and vowed to hold officials accountable for failing to respond effectively to the tragedy.

Yoon offered the apology Monday during a meeting to review safety rules as the country mourns the 156 victims of the crush, most of whom were women and young people in their 20s and 30s.

“I dare not compare myself to parents who lost their sons and daughters, but as a president who must protect the lives and safety of the people, I am heartbroken,” he said.

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“I am sorry and I apologize to the grieving families who are experiencing an unspeakable tragedy and to the people who share in the pain and sadness.”

The crush occurred on October 29, when Halloween revelers flooded the narrow alleys of Seoul’s Itaewon district to celebrate the first COVID-19 curb-free Halloween in three years.

The 156 victims included at least 26 foreigners. Another 197 people were injured.

The police have faced severe criticism and public scrutiny for their response during the tragedy, having sent only 137 officers to the area despite estimating in advance that some 100,000 people would gather.

Last week, transcripts of several emergency calls made in the hours before the crash showed that people had warned of a potential crush and urged intervention.

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The first of 11 reports came nearly four hours before the disaster, with one person reporting fear of being “nearly crushed to death” and asking police for help in crowd control. An hour before the tragedy, another person called to say: “We are on the verge of a terrible accident due to the massive crowds.”

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Yonhap news agency said police issued a “Code 0” for one of the reports, asking for the quickest possible response, and applied the second highest “Code 1” to seven others, but officers failed to take appropriate action. .

Yoon, who initially blamed the country’s crowd management and safety regulations for the tragedy, reprimanded the police following reports of call transcripts.

At Monday’s security meeting, the president pledged to review the national security management system, conduct a thorough investigation and hold accountable those responsible for failures.

“In particular, a comprehensive reform in police work, which is essential to prepare for danger and prevent accidents, is needed to protect people’s safety,” Yoon said.

He also promised to make sure “the truth is fully determined.”

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“According to the results, I will strictly demand accountability from those responsible,” he added.

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