Seoul police criticized for deadly stampede

SEOUL, North Korea (HPD) — Police in Seoul have assigned 137 officers to control a crowd of Halloween revelers expected to exceed 100,000 over the weekend, a decision that has drawn intense criticism following the death of more than 150 people.

By comparison, nearly 7,000 police officers were dispatched elsewhere in the South Korean capital on Saturday to monitor opposing protests involving tens of thousands of people, but fewer than those that flocked to the popular nightlife district of Itaewon that same day. night. In comparison, the special body created to investigate the tragedy is made up of 475 members, that is, three times larger than the group assigned to the agglomeration.

Officers have obtained video from about 50 security cameras in the area and are also analyzing videos posted on social media. They have interviewed more than 40 witnesses and survivors so far, police officer Nam Gu-Jun told reporters on Monday.

Authorities are studying exactly when and where the massive surge began and how it developed. Police teams and government forensic experts searched the Itaewon area on Monday.

“The government will thoroughly investigate the cause of the incident and do its best to make necessary improvements to the systems to prevent a similar accident from happening again,” Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said at the start of a government meeting on the disaster.

As South Korea mourns, authorities face tough questions over preparations for celebrations and demands for accountability after the country’s worst disaster in nearly a decade.

The government has insisted there was no way to predict that the crowd would spiral out of control.

But experts disagree. The deployment of so few police officers, they said, shows officials were ill-prepared despite knowing in advance there would be a huge turnout following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in recent months.

In addition to assigning more personnel, the police and authorities in the Yongsan district, which governs Itaewon, should have pedestrianized some streets and taken other measures to ease crowding in narrow alleys like the one where the tragedy occurred, according to experts.

Instead, 137 policemen in Itaewon were assigned to monitor crime, with a particular focus on the use of narcotics, meaning that for all practical purposes “nobody was looking out for pedestrian safety,” said Kong Ha-song, a professor disaster prevention at Woosuk University in South Korea.

The deaths should be viewed as a “man-made disaster,” said Lee Changmoo, a professor of urban planning at Hanyang University in Seoul.

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