Igniting more vigilsAbout 1,000 people including families of victims and officials of the Association of Nationwide Squatters held candlelight vigils on Tuesday in central Seoul till late in the evening following the fire in Yongsan that claimed the lives of five protesters and a member of a police SWAT team.
Seeing these vigils return to our streets, many citizens are worried that we might be subjected to the same level of chaos that defined much of last summer. The most urgent thing for now is for the central government to quickly respond to this incident and convince the public that it is taking the tragedy seriously.
Considering the nature of the incident and the social circumstances, the fire and its consequences remain a very touchy issue.
Before it is determined who are the victims and who is to blame, public sympathy and sadness might spill over into anger with the authorities.
The incident could have a similar psychological impact as the fear of mad cow disease had last year.
It could deepen the gap between different social groups. People who belong to the lowest income bracket in society are the most vulnerable to the ongoing economic slowdown, and people who are less fortunate than others might feel angered by the fire in Yongsan, even if they didn’t actually witness what happened.
We may start seeing the fire become a catalyst for the less fortunate to voice their frustrations about a range of issues.
The gap between social classes is a major factor that can lead a society into crisis.
As the central government said earlier, the government should embark on a thorough investigation. But the investigation should be carried out quickly.
According to prosecutors, a SWAT team was ordered to evict the protesters occupying the site of the incident even though police were aware that flammable materials including paint thinner were present at the scene.
The people in authority who made the decisions that led to the deaths of the demonstrators and a policeman must be punished for their negligence.
The government should also do its utmost to give comfort to the victims’ families.
Prime Minister Han Seung-soo visited the hospital where the victims were taken, but he didn’t meet the relatives. He must, if he wants people to believe the government genuinely cares.
The government should not repeat its mistake last year by mishandling this incident with a lukewarm attitude, as it did over the mad cow rallies.
What we really need is quick action to ease public anger.