Seoul, Feb 4 (IANS): Bereaved families of the victims of the Itaewon crowd crush clashed with police in central Seoul on Saturday as they took to the streets one day before the 100th day of the tragedy and installed a memorial altar in a public square without approval from authorities.
About 1,000 people, including about 150 family members, began to march from a memorial altar at Noksapyeong Station, near the site of the Oct. 29 accident that killed 159 people during Halloween festivities, at around 11 a.m., to Sejongno Street, where they were to hold a memorial rally for the victims, Yonhap News Agency reported.
They had initially planned to hold the event at nearby Gwanghwamun Square and set up the memorial altar there. But the city government rejected the requests, and the police agency dispatched about 3,000 personnel near Gwanghwamun Square.
In the middle of the march, the families and participants abruptly set up a temporary memorial facility at Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall, located on Sejongno Street.
Police briefly clashed with them while trying to block the installation. After police officers stepped back in the face of their resistance, about 70 Seoul city officials attempted remove the facility but also failed.
During the confrontation, a bereaved family member lost consciousness and was taken to a nearby hospital, witnesses said.
They finally set up the altar at around 2.10 p.m. and then began the memorial event, with about 5,000 participants occupying four of the six lanes of the road.
The families wore a red scarf symbolizing the grief of losing loved ones and a badge where four stars are carved to represent the victims, their families, survivors and rescuers.
A 51-year-old rallier, Lee Jeong-nyeo, said she joined the rally with her 11-year-old son over frustrations that the National Assembly has not done enough to uncover the truth of the accident.
Last month, the assembly wrapped up a 55-day parliamentary probe into the case amid criticism it fell short of expectations and was used as a tool for political fighting.
"We express deep regret toward the police and the Seoul metropolitan government for trying to block the voices of the bereaved families rather than remembering and commemorating the victims," a local civic group, Lawyers for a Democratic Society, also known as Minbyun, said in a statement.
Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, and other opposition lawmakers also joined the rally.
"The responsibility of the state is nowhere to be found before the tragedy, after the tragedy and now ... the Seoul city government even coldly turned down the bereaved families' request asking for just a small space to commemorate the victims today," Lee said.
Lee accused the government of President Yoon Suk Yeol of turning the "ordinary families of the victims" into "fighters," saying his party will continue its efforts to uncover the truth of the disaster and hold those responsible to account.