The Korea Herald


Motion for firing safety minister heads to Yoon

Amid partisan wrangling, grieving parents vow to fight for justice in Itaewon disaster

By Kim Arin

Published : Dec. 11, 2022 - 18:17

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Parents of the victims killed in the crowd crush in Itaewon on Oct. 29 weep during a press conference on Saturday in Seoul. (Yonhap) Parents of the victims killed in the crowd crush in Itaewon on Oct. 29 weep during a press conference on Saturday in Seoul. (Yonhap)

An opposition party-led motion was passed on Sunday to press President Yoon Suk-yeol to fire Lee Sang-min, the minister of interior and safety, over the government’s response to the Halloween crowd crush in Seoul’s Itaewon.

The motion, now headed to Yoon for final approval, would put increased pressure on the president to dismiss the safety minister who is also a close aide.

Out of the 183 lawmakers present, an overwhelming 182 voted in favor of the motion at Sunday’s plenary session devoid of the ruling party. In a show of opposition, the People Power Party vetoed the vote and threatened to walk away from a parliamentary investigation of the disaster.

This is the second parliamentary proposal for removing a Cabinet member from office to pass since Yoon took office in May. Only eight such proposals have made it through the National Assembly, including the one passed on Sunday.

In passing the motion, Democratic Party chair Rep. Lee Jae-myung said removing the safety minister from office would be “the first step in bringing accountability.”

“There is no one taking responsibility, and no official apology. There are no efforts from the government whatsoever to understand the pains of the bereaved families.”

Democratic Party Rep. Jin Sung-joon said that the Itaewon disaster was the “result of a collective neglect on the part of the government.”

“At the center of this grave dereliction of duty is Minister Lee Sang-min, who has refused to take responsibility.”

People Power Party’s interim chair Rep. Chung Jin-suk said that the ruling party would request the president to exercise his authority to block the motion. In September, Yoon turned down the first Democratic Party-backed motion for forcing out Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin.

Chung argued that the motion’s passage was a “breach of the bipartisan agreement.”

“The parties have agreed to investigate the safety minister in an agreement reached on the terms of the parliamentary investigation. Dismissing him was not one of those terms,” he said.

Sunday’s plenary session, devoid of the ruling People Power Party, passed the motion for firing Minister of Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min. (Yonhap) Sunday’s plenary session, devoid of the ruling People Power Party, passed the motion for firing Minister of Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min. (Yonhap)

The motion came a day after grieving families of 97 victims killed in the crowd crush announced they were forming an organization, saying they wished to get the government to admit liability and bring justice to the victims.

“These were people going about their day at an everyday place, and their lives were cut abruptly. Red flags were ignored and cries for help were missed,” the families said in a joint statement issued at the press conference on Saturday. “The government failed at its most important job of protecting its people.”

The demands laid out by the families include efforts from the government to determine all the facts and circumstances, punishment for all involved, a memorial for the victims and a sincere apology from the president.

Speaking at a press conference, Lee Jung-chul, the father of 24-year-old Ji-han, said the families have struggled to get in contact with one another over the past month.

“We’ve asked the government to provide opportunities for families to get together. We said we wanted to grieve together because we share the same pain. But our request was never heeded. We had to search all over the country to finally meet,” he said.

Ji-han’s mother said on the day she lost her son, she promised herself that she would “fight for justice until the end.”

“I’m going to fight for my son. I’m going to fight together with all of the victims’ families,” she said.

Parents said they still haven’t been provided explanations for how their children died.

“I don’t know what happened to my son in the last hours of his life -- where he was, how he was found and if he was given help,” said a woman who identified herself as the mother of Kim Hyun-su.

“I’m just an ordinary mom. I don’t know politics. But I know you have to apologize for what you did wrong. I always taught my son that. The president of this country should apologize to our children. The least you can do is apologize.”

The family members, mostly parents, wept through much of the press conference. Some collapsed, and an ambulance was called in.

There was anger over remarks People Power Party Rep. Kweon Seong-dong made on the families’ organization.

Kweon wrote on his Facebook Saturday that the disaster in Itaewon “should not go down the same path as Sewol ferry.” The ferry sank off the coast of Jindo in 2014, killing more than 300 passengers.

He claimed that with the case of Sewol, “civic groups organized to campaign against the government.”

“Disasters should not be politicized like that,” he added.

In a message to the lawmaker, Lee Jung-min, a representative of the organization of the victims’ families, said he “does not want anything to do with political arguments.”

“None of us want to be here. We are parents who lost our children. We don’t know why we have to be out in the streets like this to be listened,” he said. “Explain what you mean. You can speak with us. Don’t treat us like we are an anti-government group.”