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Motion filed to impeach safety minister over Itaewon disaster

Feb. 6, 2023 - 15:34 By Kim Arin
Minister of Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min attends the plenary session of the National Assembly on Monday. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s opposition parties on Monday tabled a motion to impeach Minister of Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min over the deadly crowd crush in Itaewon, a neighborhood in central Seoul, on Oct. 29 last year.

The impeachment motion was submitted on the grounds that Lee failed to implement measures to prevent crowd congestion and work with concerned government agencies in the event of mass disasters. The safety minister also failed to respond in time as the crowd surge turned into a mass-casualty event, the motion said.

The motion also highlighted some of the remarks made by the safety minister during the parliamentary investigation of the Itaewon disaster that was wrapped up last month.

Appearing before lawmakers at a Dec. 27 session of the parliamentary investigation, Lee said on his delayed response that by the time he was alerted, “It was already late.”

The safety minister got to the scene about 45 minutes past midnight, 85 minutes after he was briefed about the situation for the first time. It is believed that the crowd compressed into a crush in one of the narrow alleyways in Itaewon between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on Oct.29.

Explaining the delay, he told lawmakers that the “golden hour” -- referring to the crucial time for saving a person’s life in an emergency -- had “already passed.”

Last Oct. 30, in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Lee also claimed that having police officials around the site of the disaster “would not have made a difference.” The parliamentary investigation concluded, however, that the lack of police in the area led to the failure in crowd management.

Democratic Party of Korea lawmakers call for impeaching Safety Minister Lee Sang-min and investigating First Lady Kim Keon-hee at the hallway of the main building of the National Assembly. (courtesy of Rep. Yoon Young-deok office)

The motion, anticipated to be put to a vote at Wednesday’s plenary session, will likely pass as the National Assembly majority is controlled by the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea. If passed, the motion will head to the Constitutional Court for review.

Since their first public appearance, the bereaved families of the crowd crush victims have consistently called for removing the safety minister over the fumbled response by the government.