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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 25)

07:00 November 25, 2022

Reveal truth behind tragedy
Assembly should work out preventive measures

The ruling People Power Party (PPP) and three opposition parties have launched a parliamentary investigation into the Halloween tragedy which killed at least 158 partygoers in a crowd crush in Seoul's Itaewon district on Oct. 29. Lawmakers of the rival parties should focus on laying bare the full facts behind the disaster. They should also make efforts to work out bold measures to prevent such calamities from happening again.

The probe is a welcome move as it can live up to the bereaved families' request for a thorough investigation and stern punishment for those responsible for the deadly crowd surge. It also carries significant implications in that the rival parties have managed to narrow their differences over the mishap. A fair and objective probe is necessary because many people would not trust the ongoing investigation by the police, who are under fire for their bungled response to the tragedy.

On Wednesday, the PPP made a compromise to accept calls for the parliamentary probe by the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and two minor parties. This compromise is meaningful. It can pave the way for bipartisanship which is badly required for the successful management of state affairs on the part of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration. The government and the PPP had opposed the DPK's proposal for the parliamentary probe, arguing that it would be needed only in case the police investigation is not satisfactory.

The PPP's change of stance was made amid growing public calls for an investigation by the National Assembly. It was also prompted by the bereaved families calling for the truth about what led to the police's failure to prevent the disaster. The police have come under severe criticism for their total disregard for public safety despite a series of emergency calls from partygoers throughout the night, even hours before the disaster. It is doubtful if the police can get to the bottom of their own negligence of duty.

Now the question is whether the Assembly can conduct its investigation effectively and produce successful outcome. The probe will last 45 days and the period could be extended upon an agreement by the rival parties. It will go into full swing after the Assembly approves the government's 2023 budget plan by the legally binding Dec. 2 deadline. Lawmakers will investigate government agencies, including the state affairs monitoring team of the presidential office, the Prime Minister's Office, the interior and health ministries, the national crisis management center, the police and the fire agency.

There are some hurdles to the probe because the Assembly has no right to interrogate those responsible as criminal suspects. More seriously, lawmakers of the rival parties may try to use the probe to go on a political vendetta. The DPK has already launched its political offensive against the Yoon administration in protest of the ongoing investigation of corruption allegations involving its Chairman Lee Jae-myung and his close confidants.

In this situation, the rival parties need to refrain from partisan strife and work together to shed light on what went wrong with the country's disaster prevention and safety system. They should make sincere efforts to heal the wounds of the bereaved families and relieve the shock from the disaster by introducing a better system for public safety. Only then can the victims rest in peace.
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