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Interior Ministry insists it is 'not responsible' for Itaewon tragedy

Interior Minister Lee Sang-min attends a task force team meeting held Friday to respond to the Itaewon tragedy. (Yonhap)
Interior Minister Lee Sang-min attends a task force team meeting held Friday to respond to the Itaewon tragedy. (Yonhap)

The Interior Ministry claimed it does not hold responsibility over the Itaewon tragedy, following criticism the ministry was at the center of control for police response to the incident.

The ministry issued an official statement Monday claiming the police bureau did not have authority to intervene in police operations, except at an organizational level. And so the police bureau, as a separate organization from police administration, was not relevant to the police’s response.

The police bureau under the Interior Ministry was launched in August, amid fierce opposition from police officers and opposition parties that the bureau may damage the autonomy and independence of the police.

At the time, Minister Lee stressed the bureau would not intervene in police investigations, and it would take on administrative work, such as reviewing police-related state affairs and proposing the appointment of senior police positions.

But recently Lee has been accused of failing to take responsibility for the tragedy as the Interior Minister is ultimately in charge of the police and fire departments. Lee, however, has been remaining firm in his stance that he will not resign over the incident.

"In June, the minister mentioned he cannot carry out duties for situation control under the Governmental Organization Act, but has the responsibility and authority to command and supervise the police,” the statement read.

Minister Lee Sang-min was, in practice, prevented from carrying out the roles he did have.

“… there needs to be an institutional framework for Lee to be briefed on the situation control (duties) from the police and have the authority for administration, personnel, supervision and discipline,” the statement continued, adding that strong opposition at the time of the bureau's launch also limited the organization’s ability to supervise and discipline the police.



By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)
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