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Will Itaewon tragedy memorial find a new location?

May 15, 2024 - 16:47 By Choi Jeong-yoon
A bereaved family member of a victim of the 2022 Itaewon tragedy sheds tears in front of the memorial installed next to the Seoul City Hall on May 2, 2024. The National Assembly passed a special bill mandating an in-depth investigation into the tragedy on the same day. (Yonhap)

A memorial for the victims of the 2022 Itaewon crowd crush, currently installed in front of the main City Hall building in central Seoul, could be relocated as a special bill that mandates an investigation into the tragedy took effect Tuesday.

The Seoul city government on Wednesday said the bereaved families and civic groups related to the incident, which claimed 159 lives, would begin discussions on an alternative location for the altar that was installed near Gwanghwamun in February last year.

The discussions had remained in limbo since it was set up, with the bereaved families and the Yoon Suk Yeol administration failing to bridge their differences on several key issues including compensation and an investigation into the tragedy.

But the National Assembly's decision on May 2 to pass a special bill that mandates an in-depth investigation into the tragedy is likely to resolve the deadlock in the discussions, observers say.

The new law will allow the formation of an investigation committee to look into the root cause of the tragedy, comprised of a chair and four members recommended by both the ruling and the main opposition parties.

The memorial, which was built and managed without the city government's permission, has often been at the center of the conflict between political parties here, as the government refused to officially approve the altar out of concern that the location would attract broader anti-government protests.

Hurdles remain in finding an alternative location for the altar, as the families rejected the city government's earlier proposal to set up the memorial at an underground space at Noksapyeong Station, close to where the incident took place.

The families have called for a suitable place for the memorial, which they say should be in Seoul and have due prominence and public access.

Bereaved families installed the memorial one day before the 100-day anniversary of the tragedy, which the government held responsible for the unauthorized occupation of property and imposed 29 million won ($21,000) in compensation accrued by April last year.

To avoid intense public blowback for politicizing the tragedy, the conservative Seoul mayor Oh Se-hoon has maintained his stance on encouraging a voluntary removal of the memorial and said he would delay the transfer until the passage of a special law for Itaewon tragedy is resolved.