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Halloween investigators raid Seoul police stations


Investigators investigating the mob crush that killed 156 people during South Korea’s Halloween festivities raided police stations in Seoul on Wednesday.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said investigators raided eight of its offices and seized internal reports and documents related to reports made by members of the public to the 112 hotline.

Among the offices raided was the Yongsan District Police Station, which oversees the Itaewon nightlife area, where the crush took place.

The raids came as Korean authorities faced mounting public pressure and fury, with witnesses saying there was little or no crowd control in Itaewon on the night of the crash – although the police received warnings well in advance.

Saturday’s deadly crowd crush happened in a section of narrow lanes, where witnesses described being unable to move or breathe as massive crowds gathered in a street no taller than 4 meters (13ft ) wide. It has since emerged that members of the public telephoned the police to warn of overcrowding hours before the first deaths were reported.

Wednesday’s raids were carried out by a special investigation unit created only a day earlier by the National Police Agency (NPA) to investigate the disaster.

The NPA said on Wednesday it had suspended the chief of the Yongsan police station, one of the police stations closest to the crash site.

“Chief Lee Im-jae cannot carry out his normal duties given the situation,” the NPA said, adding that his successor would be announced later in the day.

Records given to CNN by the NPA show that police received at least 11 calls from people in Itaewon concerned about the possibility of a crowd crush as early as four hours before the incident.

The first call was at 6:34 p.m., when a caller warned, “It sounds really dangerous… I’m afraid people will get run over.”

Less than two hours later, another caller called for traffic control, saying there were so many people crammed into Itaewon’s narrow lanes that they kept falling and hurting themselves.

National Police Agency Commissioner Yoon Hee-keun bows during a press conference in Seoul, South Korea, November 1.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday, NPA chief Yoon Hee-keun admitted for the first time that police made mistakes in their response.

“There were a number of reports on the police hotline indicating the seriousness of the (situation) just before the accident happened,” he said. “According to reports, a large crowd gathered before the crash and reports from the police hotline were (told of the danger).”

He added that the police response to emergency calls had been “inadequate” and that he felt a “heavy responsibility” as head of the agency.

It was during Tuesday’s press conference that he announced the creation of the special investigation unit that carried out Wednesday’s raids.

The unit would “transparently reveal the truth,” Yoon promised.

Police stand guard at the scene of the crowd crush in Itaewon, Seoul, South Korea, October 30.

Other government agencies have also admitted to being unprepared. The Home Office said on Monday it had no guidelines for dealing with the influx of crowds because it was not caused by a single event with a single organizer.

“One of the reasons (for the disaster) was a lack of deep institutional knowledge and consideration for crowd management,” Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said on Tuesday.

He added that even if more police had been deployed they might have been ineffective as “we don’t have a crowd management system”.

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