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Bereaved father collapses as Itaewon disaster probe ends in partisan row

Jan. 17, 2023 - 21:12 By Kim Arin
Parents of victims of the crowd disaster in Itaewon in October last year call on lawmakers to adopt the report on findings from the parliamentary probe outside the National Assembly building on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Father who lost his son to the Itaewon crowd crush in October of last year collapsed Tuesday as the last day of the National Assembly probe turned into a row between the ruling and opposition parties.

The father of late Lee Ji-han, who died at age 24 on the night of the disaster in central Seoul, was taken to a nearby hospital by an ambulance after collapsing near the end of the final plenary session of the parliamentary probe.

He had to be escorted out of Tuesday’s session, after crying uncontrollably for several minutes. “This is not OK. This is not right,” he said, before he collapsed on the floor of the lobby of the National Assembly’s main building.

At the session, the ruling People Power Party refused to adopt the report on the findings from the parliamentary probe, which began 55 days ago on Nov. 24.

“We can’t accept some of the conclusions drawn by the opposition, and ask to postpone the report’s adoption,” said the ruling party Rep. Lee Man-hee, to which the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea protested.

After the bickering ensued for over an hour, some bereaved parents of the victims began to sob.

People Power Party Rep. Cho Su-jin claimed the Democratic Party accusing the Minister of Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min in the Itaewon disaster could be like accusations raised by the opposition in a non-related scandal that was turning out to be false.

“What has that got to do with this probe?” asked one parent, who was also escorted out.

Another People Power Party Rep. Jun Joo-hyae said while the ruling party “tried to meet the opposition party in the middle,” the Democratic Party abused its control of the majority in the National Assembly and “pushed motions unilaterally” over the probe.

“To me it appears as though the Democratic Party’s main agenda is not to get to the truth but to blame the tragedy on the administration,” she said.

Then Democratic Party Rep. Lee Hae-sik demanded the ruling party lawmaker apologize over her remarks before the session resumed.

“I don’t think we can proceed unless Assemblywoman Jun apologizes. I would like her apology for accusing and ridiculing fellow Assembly members this way. This is way over the line and I can’t stand it,” he said.

Rep. Kim Hyung-dong of the People Power Party said the Democratic Party was contradicting itself by asking for another probe at the end of the one just conducted by the Assembly.

“The Democratic Party is now saying the Assembly hasn’t done its job well with the probe because the ruling party wasn’t cooperative. But the Democratic Party has the majority in the parliamentary probe committee as well as in the Assembly,” he said.

On Oct. 29, 2020, a crowd of mostly young people became compacted in a narrow alley in Itaewon keeping them trapped for hours. The crowding turned into a crush, killing 158 and injuring 196.