It’s been days since Tuesday when six people, including a police officer, were killed by a fire that erupted suddenly atop a five-story building in Yongsan, the center of Seoul. Former residents were protesting against the redevelopment plan for merely 25 hours when they were cornered inside a makeshift watchtower on the roof by combined forces of water cannons, riot police, the special forces and enforcers hired by the coalition company (supported by witness accounts and a recorded police transmission). Police records indicate that they were aware of the fact that the residents kept large quantities of paint thinners in the watchtower to fend of attacks by making molotov cocktails; yet they pushed on what was later criticized as a hasty, rash and highly dangerous operation. From what the prosecutor’s office claims was an ignited molotov cocktail, a fire erupted on the tiny watchtower, spreading quickly due to wet surface and clothing soaked from the water cannons, literally burning the victims to death and injuring many. The police gathered additional criticism when autopsies were performed on the identified bodies without the permission of family members. However, much of the anger is vented towards the already unpopular government with the M.Ps of the ruling Grand National Party divulging in inappropriate and inconsiderate comments such as “They shouldn’t have had paint thinners in the first place” “I hope this will be a chance to end the cycle of violent protesting” and “First and foremost we must concentrate on uncovering the truth and condemning the violent protestors who are responsible (five residents were arrested).” The president has yet to disclose any official apologies or attempt to reprimand the man directly responsible for assigning the operation–Yongsan Police Station chief Kim Seok-ki, also appointed as the next commissioner general of the National Police Agency.
Since the prsidency of Lee Myung-bak, the quality of democracy in South Korea has deteriorated sharply and this tragedy marks the extreme heights–or more precisely the lows–of the consequences when a political philosophy values anything–whether it be law and order or economic development–over the very basic foundation of our existence, human rights. Apallingly enough the government has failed even in the most artificial level to convey any form of believable respect and condolences towards the precious human lives lost in the incident, instead attempting to use the tragedy as a chance to expand and strengthen authority and control at the expense of spitting on graves and adding salt to injuries. The “problem” of Yongsan, the “reponsibilities (“they had it coming”),” the “truth”–the problem is actually very simple: PEOPLE DIED, STUPID!!!
And whatever awaits the fate of the regime after the Lunar New Year holiday ends and people take to the streets on a candlelight vigil scheduled on the 31st–ironically in Chongyechon, the artificial stream constructed by President Lee when he was mayor of Seoul–whatever happens then, they had it coming.