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‘President failed in his constitutional duty’

Democratic Party of Korea blasts Yoon over Itaewon response

Presidential office staff attend National Assembly proceedings on Tuesday. From left are national security adviser Kim Sung-han, chief of staff Kim Dae-ki and Kim Jong-chul, deputy chief of presidential security service. (Yonhap)
Presidential office staff attend National Assembly proceedings on Tuesday. From left are national security adviser Kim Sung-han, chief of staff Kim Dae-ki and Kim Jong-chul, deputy chief of presidential security service. (Yonhap)

The opposition lawmakers on Tuesday blasted President Yoon Suk-yeol and his administration for failing in their duties with regard to the Itaewon tragedy.

At the National Assembly interrogation of the presidential office, the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea accused the president of “failing his constitutional mandate to protect South Koreans” in the Itaewon tragedy.

“The Itaewon disaster showed a complete neglect of the obligations placed on the president by the Constitution, which are to ‘endeavor to prevent disasters and protect people in the event of a disaster,’” said Democratic Party lawmaker Rep. Choi Ki-sang, quoting the Constitution.

“The president did not fulfill his constitutional obligations, and he failed to prove why we have a government. So where is his apology?” said Choi.

He said that Yoon’s apologies so far “have not been done in an acceptable manner.”

The president has said that he was “sorry” to the “families of the victims and the people who are grieving with them,” and that the government bears an “infinite responsibility.” “I will never stop feeling sorry for not having been able to protect our young people,” said Yoon at a requiem mass on Saturday.

Choi said that the president has to apologize “in a manner that people can accept,” and that the first step was to dismiss people who were in charge.

Over the week the Democratic Party has insisted firing police chiefs and members of Yoon’s Cabinet, including the prime minister. The party’s chair Rep. Lee Jae-myung has demanded that “every minister in the Cabinet step down.”

The party’s Rep. Cheon Jun-ho said at Tuesday’s interrogation that the Yoon administration was “entirely at fault” for what happened in Itaewon.

“The Itaewon disaster is a manmade disaster, and it was caused by the complete collapse of the current administration’s emergency response coordination,” said the party’s Rep. Cheon Jun-ho. “Neither the presidential office nor the government nor the Seoul metropolitan office did their job.”

He pointed out that the president has still yet to fire the police and government officials for their failure in response.

In order for safety to become top priority within the administration, the ranking officials “need to be held accountable at all costs,” he said.

Yoon’s chief of staff Kim Dae-ki told lawmakers an immediate firing was “feared to create a vacuum in the Cabinet.”

“The appointment, with a confirmation hearing and other processes, would take about two months when there is an urgent need for a coordinated response,” he said. He added that no Cabinet member or police official had offered to resign to date.

The Democratic Party also slammed the administration and the ruling party for referring to the crowd crush as an “accident,” and its victims as “the deceased”

“‘Accident’ implies that it is somehow the individual’s fault, while ‘disaster’ signals that the government is responsible,” Rep. Park Young-soon said. He said that it was more sensitive to say the victims had been “sacrificed,” rather than simply saying they had died.

Kim, the presidential chief of staff, said that initially the national disaster management headquarters had used the term “accident” due to its legal implications.

He explained that the laws on disaster and safety management called the damage caused by lapses in the national system or faults in the essential infrastructure as “social accidents,” to differentiate them from “natural disasters.”

He said that the administration would correct its use of the term, and from now on stop referring to what happened in Itaewon as an “accident” as suggested by the opposition.

He said that the presidential office was “committed to making South Korea safe” and vowed “thorough accountability” in the Itaewon tragedy and measures to “prevent a recurrence of what happened.”

“Safety cannot be partisan, and now more than ever cooperation from the National Assembly is needed,” he said.

Rep. Joo Ho-young, the head of the National Assembly house steering committee, said there was a lack of consensus in public discourse regarding “what constitutes a disaster and what constitutes an accident,” and when a victim is “sacrificed” as opposed to “deceased.”

He said that the fatal crowd crush during Halloween festivities was something that “never should have happened.”

He said that the country was faced with “a heightened national security emergency, with unrelenting missile provocations from North Korea,” and “an economic crisis of rising inflation and climbing interest rates.”

He said the time called for the member lawmakers of the committee to “provide constructive criticism” and “bring solutions to the table.”

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)

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