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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Nov. 23)

Politics 07:00 November 23, 2022

Find the truth fast and mete out punishment

The families of the victims of the Itaewon disaster held their first press conference on Tuesday. They took action 23 days after the deadly crowd crush on Oct. 29 before Halloween. The families wailed over and over after the tragic deaths of their sons and daughters. While watching them read their prepared scripts, citizens deeply sympathized with them.

The families expressed their disappointments at the lethargic response of the government to the emergency. A mother poured out strong complaints at the police. "They were just sitting on their hands even after receiving 11 emergency calls warning about imminent deaths from the congested crowds," she lamented. Another mother said she still does not know if her son received CPR at the time or if he died while being transported to the hospital by ambulance.

A parent showed anger at the way the authorities responded to the disaster. He attacked the minister of the interior and safety for his incomprehensible remarks that the disaster could not be prevented even if more police were dispatched to the scene. Criticizing the minister for a "critical dearth of human compassion," the father asked, "What was the government doing when 158 youngsters were dying?"

Another parent wondered if politicians — and those who inflict a secondary damage on the victims — would understand the pain only when they went through the same tragedy. He denounced senior police officers for trying to hold onto their job despite dereliction of duty. A mother pleaded with President Yoon Suk-yeol to punish those in charge of public safety so as not to repeat such tragedies.

Given their heart-wrenching stories, President Yoon must immediately take action — such as a sincere apology and stern punishments for police officers and other officials involved. But questions remain whether the government really took measures enough to convince the bereaved families. Such a relaxed approach helped politicians exploit the tragedy for political gains. Some lawmakers of the Democratic Party (DP) joined a massive rally to demand Yoon's resignation and exploit the tragedy to defend DP Chair Lee Jae-myung in crisis over a number of allegations against him. Growing public support for the DP-proposed legislative probe into the disaster represents their utter discontent with the government's inability to address the tragedy.

The presidential office is considering a special bill aimed at compensation for the agony of the families. But they turned a cold shoulder to that. What they want from the government is not a financial compensation, but finding the truth behind the tragedy and holding officials accountable.

As the investigation continues, it is clear that the calamity resulted from a lax government response and a failure to safeguard the public. Yet no one comes forward and take responsibility. On the 100th day of his presidency, Yoon said the state has limitless responsibility to protect the people. They are asking if he will keep that promise.

(END)

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