Clutching white candles and black signs, the solemn-faced mourners gathered across Seoul to grieve the young victims of the Itaewon crush – and deliver a stinging rebuke to the government.
As public anger continues to build over the biggest tragedy in South Korea in nearly a decade, thousands turned up for several vigils and protests held across the capital.
On 29 October, a deadly crowd crush killed 156 people – mostly young people – and injured another 196 during Halloween festivities in the nightlife district of Itaewon.
One week on, the authorities have launched an investigation, raiding municipal offices and local police and fire stations.
The national police chief has apologised, as has President Yoon Suk-yeol, who has vowed to improve crowd control measures in the future.
But it has not been enough to slake the public thirst for justice. Many feel a deep sense of shame that authorities have failed to protect its young – an irony for a country known for its youthful, K-pop driven image on the international stage.
On Saturday, activist and political groups rode on that wave of anger with at least seven vigil-protests across the capital.
The biggest one was organised by Candlelight Action, an alliance of progressive groups, which had been holding regular political protests against President Yoon even before the Itaewon tragedy.
It was held near City Hall which saw two lanes of a major road blocked off to accommodate tens of thousands of protesters. Many carried black protest signs that said “Stepping down is an expression of condolence” – a pointed message for President Yoon.
Onstage, speakers took turns to rail against the government in speeches interspersed with mournful song performances and prayers recited by Buddhist monks.
“Although the government clearly has responsibility, it is looking for perpetrators from irrelevant organisations… the incident occurred because the government did not play its very basic role,” said one speaker.
“Step down, Yoon Suk-yeol’s government! Step down, Yoon Suk-yeol’s government!” the crowd chanted, waving their candles and placards.