Families of those lost in the Halloween crowd crush in 2022 gathered outside the presidential office to protest the ruling party’s recommendation that the president exercise his veto
Family members of those who died in the tragic crowd crush in Itaewon on Oct. 29, 2022, gather outside the presidential office in Seoul on Jan. 18 and shave their heads in protest of the ruling People Power Party’s recommendation that the president use his veto power on a special act for investigating the disaster. (Yonhap)
“Come watch a poor, grieving mother who lost her child have her head shaved.”
Park Young-soo, 57, wept as she sat in front of the presidential office in Seoul’s Yongsan District on Thursday while a Buddhist monk shaved her head. Park lost her son, Lee Nam-hun, in the blink of an eye during the tragic crowd crush in 2022 that killed over 150 on Halloween weekend in Itaewon. Her son was only 29.
“I heard that they’re coming up with a policy to deal with the declining birth rate today,” Park went on. “I tell you: Don’t have children. They won’t be able to survive in this country. This isn’t a country where you can raise children. Don’t have children.”
Park and nearly a dozen others shaved their heads in protest of the ruling People Power Party’s (PPP) recommendation that President Yoon Suk-yeol exercise his veto power on legislation to investigate the Itaewon tragedy. The bill passed the National Assembly on Jan. 9, a full 264 days after it was first introduced.
“The tears of mothers who’ve lost their children have created rivers while the sighs of fathers who’ve lost their children have created mountains,” Park wailed. “Have you politicians thought about looking back at those rivers and mountains? What have you been doing?”
Sobs rang out as locks of hair fell from the heads of Park and 10 others who had lost family in the tragedy, all of whom have spent the last year pleading with lawmakers to pass the legislation on the Itaewon disaster.
Lee Hyo-sook, 63, sobbed as she clutched a photo of her late daughter Jeong Ju-hee in her arms.
Bereaved family members gathered there chanted slogans condemning the PPP for recommending the president veto the legislation and urging Yoon to swiftly sign the bill into law.
The group 10.29 Itaewon Disaster Bereaved Families and its associated citizen action group held a press conference in front of the presidential office where they strongly condemned the ruling party’s recommendation that the president veto the bill.
“We have given our all when appealing to the government. We’ve begged and groveled so that our children may rest in peace, only for the ruling party to once again ignore us,“ said Lee Jeong-min, 62, the president of the 10.29 Itaewon Disaster Bereaved Families group who lost his daughter Lee Ju-yeong in the disaster.
“We will not acknowledge the PPP. The ball has been handed to President Yoon. We will use our last fragments of patience and wait expectantly for him to make a decision,” he went on.
If enacted, the special act would establish a special investigation committee to investigate the causes of the tragedy and how it was handled in the aftermath, as well as establish measures to prevent recurrences.
The PPP’s opposition to the legislation is tied to multiple factors, including the composition of the 11-member investigation committee. As the bill’s language stands, opposition lawmakers (including the speaker of the National Assembly) would recommend seven of these members, while the ruling party would recommend four. Additionally, the ruling party has labeled a clause that would grant access to records of cases that have been dropped from investigations as “toxic.”
The bereaved families and those sympathetic to their cause responded to these points.
“The ruling party criticized that it was biased for the bereaved families to have the right to recommend members of the task force, so the power to recommend members has been given to the speaker of the National Assembly,” the groups said. “It is not right to oppose the special investigation committee simply because it is not favorable to the current administration and ruling party. Also, if the task force is not given the most basic of powers to carry out a legitimate investigation, what will it be able to do?”
The parent of a person who died in the tragic crowd crush in Itaewon on Oct. 29, 2022, wails with family outside the presidential office in Seoul on Jan. 18 after shaving her head in protest of the ruling People Power Party’s recommendation that the president use his veto power on a special act for investigating the disaster. (Yonhap)
The ruling party’s demands to limit the task force’s activities to one year and three months, as well as strengthening the requirements for obtaining a search warrant, have already been incorporated into the bill when the ruling and opposition parties went through the reconciliation process.
In a statement issued the same day, the 10.29 Itaewon Disaster Bereaved Families group and its associated citizen action group said, “We once again ask for the attention of President Yoon. The special act on the Itaewon tragedy not only exists so as to investigate the truth of the tragedy itself, but to also create a safe society for all. We ask that you enact the law as soon as it lands on your desk.”
Once the special act is sent to the executive branch on Friday, Yoon will make the final decision on whether to veto it.
By Shim Wu-sam, staff reporter; Kim Young-won, staff reporter