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South Korean Court Overturns Removal of Minister over Deadly Crowd Crush

South Korea's Constitutional Court Chief Justice Yoo Nam-seok, top center, and other judges sit before the judgment at the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Yonhap via AP)
South Korean Court Overturns Removal of Minister over Deadly Crowd Crush
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South Korea’s top court has overturned a parliamentary vote that removed the country’s public safety minister over a deadly crowd incident in October.

The Constitutional Court ruled Tuesday to lift the impeachment of Lee Sang-min. Lee was serving as South Korea’s Minister of the Interior and Safety when 159 people were crushed to death in a densely packed crowd during a Halloween celebration last October in Seoul.

The court’s decision permits Lee to return to his position, which had been filled by an acting minister. South Korea’s opposition-controlled parliament voted in February to impeach Lee. Legislators sought to hold him responsible for the government’s failure to put in place effective crowd control measures.

In its rejection of Lee’s impeachment, the Constitutional Court suggested that he alone could not be held responsible for the crowd crush. The court said it had not found enough evidence to prove that Lee had failed to carry out his legal and constitutional duties to protect the public’s safety.

Instead, the court blamed a number of different government agencies for failing to “develop a combined ability to respond to large-scale disasters.”

The 58-year-old Lee is considered an important ally of conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol. The president’s office welcomed the court’s decision. Yoon had rejected calls from opposition politicians to remove Lee as minister.

Relatives of people who died in the crowd crush criticized the court. The mother of victim Park Ga-young called the ruling “truly devastating.” She told Reuters news agency, "Our children, young people, are living in a place that isn't safe to even walk in.”

In a statement released by his ministry, Lee expressed support to accident victims and their families. But he said it was time to end “wasteful political bickering” over the incident.

An investigation into the incident found that police and local officials in Seoul’s Yongsan district had failed to plan effective crowd control measures before the Halloween celebration took place.

Investigators found that police had ignored calls placed by people warning of growing crowds before the incident late on October 29. The investigation also found mistakes were made during emergency response measures during the celebration.

Police have brought criminal charges against 23 officials over the lack of crowd controls and safety measures. About half of those charged are law enforcement officers.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press and Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

respond – v. to say or do something as an answer or reaction to something that has been said or done

devastating – adj. causing a lot of damage or destruction

bicker – v. to argue about something that is not very important

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