South Korea party district mourns one year after 159 killed in Halloween crowd crush

The South Korean capital's nightlife district fell quiet on Saturday as hundreds mourned for the 159 people killed during a Halloween crowd crush one year ago.

Few people clad in Halloween costumes were seen on Saturday in Seoul's popular Itaewon neighbourhood, the site of last year's deadly surge.

The walls of the sloped alley where many died were plastered with post-it notes and condolence messages that read "we won't forget you" or "we'll remember you".

Restaurants, bars, amusement parks and shops, meanwhile, are avoiding Halloween-themed events as a sign of respect for the victims.

Lee Sung-min, who lives and works in the district, said he did not even realise it was the Halloween weekend until early on Saturday.

"It used to be filled with visitors dressed in costumes and blood makeup by this time," he said.

"But if you look at the age range of the people walking around, it's mostly just relatively old local residents."

While gatherings have not been banned in Itaewon over Halloween, police were conducting crowd-control drills with an AI-backed network of nearly 1,000 CCTV cameras.

Many in Seoul blamed last year's disaster on a lack of preparation and crowd control measures, with early calls for help going unanswered.

Most who died were aged in their 20s and 30s.

Many people were still looking for other places to join Halloween festivities, such as Hongdae, another popular spot.

"I thought Hongdae would be better than Itaewon to celebrate Halloween with my boyfriend," said Cheon Ye-ji, 19.

"It looks like the crowd is better controlled after last year's incident."

Last year's tragedy prompted a police investigation that ended in an acknowledgement of negligence and a poor response by the authorities, referring 23 officials for prosecution.

No senior government officials have resigned or been removed over the disaster and most of the 23 officials are still on trial.

Read more:
How did Seoul Halloween celebration turn into a deadly crush?
Witnesses describe 'slow and agonising' horror as crowd 'just couldn't breathe'

Families of the victims and their supporters have demanded President Yoon Suk Yeol offer a more sincere apology and accept a thorough, independent investigation.

"The attitude by the government and the ruling party is inflicting deeper and more painful scars on [us]," the families said in a joint statement.

"We just want to know the fundamental reasons why on 29 October 2022, thousands of people fell, 159 of them died and thousands of others were injured or ended up living with trauma."