South Korea parliament agrees new inquiry into deadly 2022 Halloween crush

By Hyunsu Yim and Sebin Choi

SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea's National Assembly voted on Thursday to approve a bill backed by the ruling and opposition parties to launch a fresh investigation into a deadly Halloween crowd crush in the capital Seoul in 2022.

An earlier bill, which was backed by the opposition-led parliament without the support of the ruling People Power Party (PPP), was vetoed by President Yoon Suk Yeol in January.

The latest bill is a compromise that removes granting full investigative power to the panel, which Yoon had objected to, according to his office.

Under the bill, a committee made up of members recommended by two major parties and a chair chosen by them will look into the tragedy, in which nearly 160 people were killed.

The passage of the bill comes after Yoon met opposition leader Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party for talks on Monday following the PPP's crushing general election defeat last month.

It also comes amid growing pressure on authorities, including from relatives of the victims, to hold those responsible for the fatal crush to account.

"The Yoon Suk Yeol government must respond earnestly and ... not try to hide or minimize anything," said Joung Mi-ra, the mother of one of the mostly young people who were killed.

Relatives of the victims as well as the United Nations Human Rights Committee have called for an independent inquiry into the circumstances of the crush among a crowd of Halloween partygoers in Seoul's Itaewon district.

A police investigation published early last year concluded that a lack of preparation and an inadequate response were the main factors behind the deaths.

In January, South Korean prosecutors indicted the former head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency​, charging him with contributing through negligence to the crush.

No senior government figures, including the interior and safety minister, have resigned or been sacked so far over the crush.

Parliament separately voted to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the death of a marine while conducting a search and rescue operation during last year's massive floods in South Korea. Members of the ruling PPP boycotted the vote.

Opposition party members allege the government has attempted a cover-up in an internal investigation by the Marine Corps. Yoon's office said the vote was politically motivated.

(Reporting by Hyunsu Yim, Jack Kim, Sebin Choi and Dogyun KimEditing by Ed Davies and Ros Russell)