Seoul, Jul 25 (EFE).- South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday unanimously rejected the National Assembly’s impeachment of Interior Minister Lee Sang-min over the crowd crush that killed almost 160 people during Halloween celebrations in Seoul last year.
The nine magistrates of the court reached the agreement 167 days after the liberal opposition Democratic Party (DP), with a legislative majority, passed the impeachment motion to hold Lee accountable for the disaster in Itaewon neighborhood on Oct. 29.
The decision meant that Lee’s suspension was lifted and he was immediately back in office.
The main focus of the court’s deliberations had been whether he had fulfilled his role’s duty to take steps to prevent the tragedy and whether the government’s response was appropriate, Yonhap news agency said.
However, the court said it was impossible to tell if he had failed in his duties as interior minister or violated the disaster and safety management act.
“It is not that the Itaewon tragedy happened and was aggravated due to any one reason or any specific person,” the court said, according to Yonhap. “It was the result of (many) elements collectively working, including that each government agency failed to develop capabilities to respond to large-scale disasters. Therefore, it is difficult to pass the responsibility on to the defendant.”
During the 2022 Halloween celebrations, the accumulation of hundreds of people in a narrow alleyway caused the crowd crush that left 159 dead, most of them young women between the ages of 20 and 30.
The court also said that Lee made inappropriate comments after the tragedy, but not serious enough to constitute impeachment.
The minister was heavily criticized, especially by the families of the victims, the day after the tragedy when he said the number of people concentrated in Itaewon was not a concern compared to previous years, and that the disaster could not have been avoided even if police had been deployed in advance.
After the court’s ruling, Lee said the country should “stop a partisan dispute over the crowd crush and unite together to prevent a recurrence of such pain.”
However, the office of the South Korean president, the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol, issued a statement accusing the opposition DP of abusing its impeachment powers. EFE