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South Korea parliament votes to impeach minister over crowd crush

By Agence France-Presse Published Feb 08, 2023 7:01 pm

South Korea's parliament voted to impeach the country's interior minister on Wednesday over a Halloween crowd crush in Seoul that killed more than 150 people, the first such effort to remove a cabinet minister.

Interior Minister Lee Sang-min has come under pressure to resign following heavy criticism over his handling of the October 29, 2022 disaster, when scores of young costumed partygoers, mostly women in their 20s, were killed in the popular Itaewon nightlife area.

Lee will be suspended from official duty following the impeachment motion—which passed 179-109 along party lines in the opposition-controlled parliament—until the country's Constitutional Court rules on the matter.

The motion said that despite his responsibility as an interior minister, Lee had "failed to take crisis prevention measures for large crowd events."

The parliamentary vote followed a months-long special investigation that concluded in January and said there had been massive planning and response failures—but stopped short of blaming any top government or national police agency officials.

The impeachment motion said Lee's immediate response to the crowd crush had contributed to a delayed and poorly-coordinated deployment of emergency responders.

It also criticised his claim immediately after the disaster that deploying more fire and police personnel would not have prevented it. Lee later apologised for the remark.

"Not only did he fail to carry out his role bestowed by the Constitution he also breached the basic integrity demanded of senior officials with his inappropriate remarks," the impeachment motion reads.

President Yoon Suk-yeol's office, which has staunchly defended Lee's handling of the disaster, slammed the motion, saying it would be a "shameful episode in parliamentary history."

The move comes as Seoul city officials tussle with the families of Itaewon disaster victims over a memorial they have set up, which authorities say is illegal and have threatened to demolish.

The grieving families have set up an altar near City Hall in downtown Seoul, but authorities want them to move it to a basement in a subway station in Itaewon.

Then-president Park Geun-hye was impeached in 2017, but the country has never taken such action against a cabinet minister before. (AFP)