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Democratic Party gives Yoon ultimatum to fire safety minister

Minister of Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min (Yonhap)
Minister of Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min (Yonhap)

The Democratic Party of Korea on Sunday gave President Yoon Suk-yeol a one-day ultimatum to fire Lee Sang-min, the minister of interior and safety, over the deadly crowd crush in Seoul’s Itaewon last month.

“The president needs to stand by his words that there will be accountability. The first step to do that is to remove the interior and safety minister from his post,” Democratic Party spokesperson Rep. Lee Soo-jin said in a briefing.

If Yoon fails to respond to do so by Monday, the party “would do everything in our power conferred to us by the people,” she said.

Proposals to dismiss members of the Cabinet require consent of at least two-thirds of the National Assembly, whose majority is controlled by the Democratic Party. Presidents can opt to refuse the proposal, which isn’t legally binding, but only two out of seven such proposals have been denied in history, with the most recent one being in September.

The Democratic Party unilaterally passed the proposal for sacking Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin over Yoon’s hot mic incident during his Sept. 20-22 trip to the US. Yoon declined the proposal.

Yoon office said in response to the Democratic Party demand that any concrete actions would come “after the facts are determined.”

“First we have to determine who’s responsible for what exactly, and measures will be taken accordingly,” the official told reporters in a closed-door briefing.

“In the meantime, we will be fully cooperating with the parliamentary probe.”

The ruling People Power Party said, also on this day, that it’s too early to decide whether to let the minister go.

“The parliamentary probe has just begun. Let’s see where it goes,” the party spokesperson Rep. Jang Dong-hyeok said in a briefing Sunday.

Rep. Yang Kum-hee, another spokesperson with the party, pointed out that the police’s special probe was also underway. Ahead of the weekend, the police quizzed some of the high-ranking officials at the Seoul metropolitan police agency in the Itaewon probe.

So far the safety minister has refused to step down. “I will continue to do my best in my position,” he said during a parliamentary grilling earlier this month, denying reports that he has offered to resign

In a first public appearance on Tuesday, families of the victims have asked for the resignation of Cabinet members and police chiefs, including Lee.

“What I want in the death of my son is for all those responsible to resign, and for the president to sincerely apologize,” the mother of Lee Nam-hoon, 29, said at the press conference held at the Minbyun office.

Speaking at the same press conference, the mother of 24-year-old Lee Ji-han who died in the crowd crush, lashed out at the safety minister’s earlier remarks.

“The safety minister said that having police at the event would not have made a difference. No, I don’t think so,” she said. “I keep thinking if it had been the children of a minister or a mayor in the crowd, the police would not have been so negligent.”

The minister told an Oct. 30 briefing that the disaster in Itaewon was “not something that could have been fixed by placing police officers or first responders in advance.” After the remarks drew public backlash, he apologized the next day.



By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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