02/08/2023, 11.16
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Seoul: city government rejects altar for Itaewon victims

by Guido Alberto Casanova

The families of the 159 boys who lost their lives on Halloween night held a rally and set up a memorial structure in front of the city hall. Civil society organisations and opposition party members accused the conservative executive of doing nothing to help the city overcome the trauma of the tragedy.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - The Halloween tragedy in Itaewon remains an unforgettable nightmare for the families of the 159 victims. The city government is not helping them to heal their trauma, preventing the setting up of a memorial structure in front of the city hall.

To commemorate the 100th day since the massacre, the families of some of the victims had requested the city government to organise a public commemoration in Gwanghwamun Square, the capital's main square. The conservative-led authorities, however, rejected the request on the grounds that the square had already been booked for other activities on that day.

On 4 February, however, the relatives gathered in the centre and erected an altar for the victims anyway. Together with about 5,000 people, the demonstrators marched through the streets of the capital and set up a structure in front of the town hall even without the consent of the local authorities. The police intervened to try to block the installation, but after a brief scuffle with family members, they desisted.

Numerous civil society groups and opposition parties joined the commemoration. The tone of the demonstration, as reported by the local press, immediately turned into an attack against the national government of the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol, accused of failing to protect the victims. "You cannot find the responsibility of the state before the tragedy, after the tragedy and now," opposition leader Lee Jae-myung said from a stage.

Thundering against the alleged dictatorial nature of the current executive, Lee added that "the Seoul city government has also coldly rejected the request of the bereaved families to have even a small space to commemorate the victims".

The municipal authorities, however, did not give up and ordered the removal of the installation. Initially, the municipality had ordered the families to remove the altar by 6 February, but then the deadline was postponed.

In the meantime, the deputy mayor of Seoul contacted one of the families' representatives to propose an alternative space inside the underground station in Noksapyeong. A proposal that was not liked and was interpreted as an attempt to hide and silence the condolence demonstration.

In addition, families had already erected a memorial altar near the Noksapyeong station, but it proved cramped and difficult for many people to reach. Not to mention the fact that the structure had been defaced several times by an extreme right-wing group.

The families of the victims did not give up and took turns to stand guard around the altar in front of the town hall. But from inside the building the authorities continue to demand its removal. Yesterday the deputy mayor issues his latest warning, announcing to the families that they have until 12 February to dismantle the unauthorised structure. After that, the police might intervene.

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