Opposition calls for special counsel probe, PM’s resignation over Itaewon tragedy

SEOUL– Opposition leader Lee Jae-myung on Monday brought up the need for a special counsel probe into the government’s handling of the Itaewon crowd surge and an all-out reshuffle of relevant officials, including the prime minister.

“The period of mourning and remembrance of victims has passed, and it is now time to hold those responsible to account,” Rep. Lee of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) told the party’s Supreme Council meeting.

“Taking responsibility comes with action rather than words,” Lee said. “An all-out reshuffle of those handling state affairs, including the prime minister, is necessary. This will be the beginning of taking responsibility.”

Lee also called for a special prosecutor investigation into the case, upping the ante after demanding a parliamentary probe last week.

“Since a parliamentary probe does not have the right to pursue compulsory investigation, it is now time to discuss opening a special counsel probe,” Lee said, claiming ongoing investigations by the police have limitations due to the fact they are probing officials within their organization.

DP floor leader Park Hong-keun urged President Yoon Suk-yeol to again apologize to the victims and the bereaved families, and sack top officials, like the prime minister, the interior minister and the national police chief, over the incident.
The ruling party has dismissed the opposition’s call for a parliamentary probe, claiming it will only hinder ongoing probes and cause political friction.

Ruling People Power Party floor leader Joo Ho-young reaffirmed his party’s stance Monday, stressing the priority should be on coping with the aftermath and preventing similar accidents going forward.

“A parliamentary probe without compulsory investigative rights will only interrupt a swift probe and provoke political turmoil,” Joo said.

“Rather than repetitively holding investigative committees and wasting budget, it is more important to establish effective preventive measures and make sure they work right,” he said, adding the massive budget that went into probing the Sewol ferry disaster failed to prevent another major tragedy.

The Itaewon tragedy marked the country’s worst disaster in years since the 2014 ferry sinking that killed 304, mostly high school students.

Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon also objected to the call for a special counsel probe, saying speed is key to investigations into large-scale disasters and having a special prosecutor investigate the case would rather hinder efforts to uncover the truth.

“Should there be shortfalls after all investigations, including one by the prosecution, are completed, I think it’s OK to launch a special prosecutor investigation,” Han said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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