South Korea’s Yoon apologizes for Halloween crush, vows justice

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol holds a flower to be placed as a tribute to victims as he visits the scene of a crowd crush that happened during Halloween festivities, in Seoul, South Korea, November 1, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

SEOUL — South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol apologized on Monday for the deadly Halloween crush in Seoul, pledging to hold to account any officials found to be responsible for sloppy responses and to reform police and safety management systems.

The October 29 crush killed 156 people, mostly in their twenties and thirties, and injured another 197 when revellers flooded the narrow alleyways of the popular nightlife district of Itaewon to celebrate the first COVID curbs-free Halloween festivities in three years.

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Yoon offered the apology during a meeting to review safety rules, as the country continues to mourn the crush victims. An investigation is under way into authorities’ responses to the accident.

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

“I am sorry and apologetic to the bereaved families who are suffering an unspeakable tragedy, and to the people who share the pain and sorrow.”

Police have faced stringent public criticism and scrutiny over its responses during the tragedy, having dispatched just 137 officers to the area despite estimating in advance as many as 100,000 people would gather.