11/10/2022, 14.09
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Seoul, building abuse among the possible causes of the Halloween massacre

by Guido Alberto Casanova

In the Itaewon tragedy that cost 156 people their lives, some hotel structures built without permits are also being investigated, allegedly making the alley where the young men died crushed in the stampede even narrower. Meanwhile, President Yoon met with religious leaders to seek advice on how to respond to the grief caused by this mourning that affects the whole country.


Seoul (asiaNews) - With the week of national mourning over, South Korea has begun the painful search for those responsible for the massacre that occurred on 29 October in Seoul during Halloween celebrations. During the tragedy and in the days that followed, 156 people died, mostly young men in their twenties, who fell on each other and were crushed in a very narrow alley due to overcrowding in the Itaewon nightlife district that night.

Yesterday morning a group of investigators turned up at the Hamilton Hotel, along whose perimeter walls runs the very steep alley where the tragedy occurred. The authorities demanded that they be handed over documents relating to the management of the facility as well as administrative licences. According to the building plan, parts of the hotel were in fact built without permits.

In recent days, many people have pointed to a structure attached to the hotel as one of the factors that made the alley dangerous on Halloween night. According to South Korean building legislation, pedestrian alleys cannot be narrower than 4 metres to ensure the safety of passers-by. However, the extension of the hotel (with what many suspect was an unauthorised addition) created a bottleneck, narrowing the width of the adjacent alley to 3.2 metres.

The Yonhap news agency reports a document issued by the capital's authorities, according to which the hotel was ordered in 2014 to demolish the unauthorised extensions. The order, however, was never carried out, which is why the hotel's management has reportedly incurred fines totalling 500 million won (around 363,000 euro) since then.

The mayor of Seoul, meanwhile, has asked local officials to crack down on illegal building. Some of them will be summoned by investigators to check whether the district authorities are also responsible for the hotel's enlargement without a permit.

The investigators, who not only visited the hotel yesterday morning but also the director's house, will try to find out whether the illegal structural addition contributed to the incident and if so to what extent. Yesterday, the police investigation section opened a formal investigation against the hotel manager on charges of illegal building and unauthorised use of the public highway for private purposes.

In the meantime, however, the police itself is under scrutiny. From the first hours after the incident it had become clear that the police had failed to keep the neighbourhood safe despite numerous calls from citizens to report the dangerous situation. In recent days, in fact, six people have been placed on the register of suspects, including the Seoul police emergency manager who was on duty that night and the police chief of the local district where the massacre took place.

In the meantime, President Yoon Suk-yeol has held several meetings in recent days with the country's religious leaders to reflect together on how to help the country recover from this tragedy. Among these personalities he also wanted to meet the archbishop of Seoul, Mgr Peter Chung Soon-taick, and his predecessor, Card. Andrew Yeom Soo-jung.

According to reports from the Korean president's staff, Archbishop Chung, acknowledging the efforts of these days to share the grief of the victims' families, asked the country's authorities to do their utmost to prevent similar tragedies. For his part, Card. Yeom said he prays that those who govern may learn to look at their people with the same gaze of a parent towards their children.

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