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No Police Indicted in Deadly Yongsan Clash

Posted February. 09, 2009 04:03,   


Prosecutors said yesterday that they will indict 21 to 22 sit-in protesters but no police for the Jan. 20 deadly clash in Seoul’s Yongsan district.

The Seoul Central Prosecutors` Office has completed a 20-day investigation into the cause of the fire that killed six people including one police officer.

After much drama including the unusual calling of a meeting by the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office and delay in the release of the investigation results, prosecutors are expected to finally announce their findings in a news conference this morning.

Despite controversy over police brutality and the dispatch of a SWAT team, prosecutors said they could not charge police officers since no illegal action such as violence was taken in the crackdown.

They did say police failed to take some safety measures in their operation, but that this had no direct causal connection with the tragedy. Thus, police officers will not face charges of involuntary manslaughter in the line of duty.

The decision by police commanders to send the SWAT team only a day after the demonstration broke out was also not classified as a criminal action. Prosecutors, however, said they will announce blunders in the crackdown when they announce their probe results today.

Announcing matters not facing criminal charges has become a point of contention within the prosecution, but experts say the mistakes of police officers must be scrutinized by a relevant authority to prevent a recurrence.

The probe judged as irrelevant in the fire’s cause a private demolition worker who sprayed water from the rooftop of a building next to Namildang building, the site of the clash.

Nonetheless, police could still be held responsible for his conduct. Officers tried to prevent the creation of a lookout by protesters with a water hose installed at the police’s request.

The worker and police disagreed over the reasons of the worker spraying water over the building in their testimonies.

Twenty-one to 22 of the 25 protesters in the sit-in demonstration will face indictment. In response, their attorneys plan to request a jury trial.

“We aim to seek the truth of the case through a jury trial because of high controversy over the fairness of the investigation,” an attorney said.

The probe results also said one of the protesters poured paint thinner on the fourth floor of the lookout. The liquid then flowed down to the floors below via the building’s iron frames.

Police officers said that while they were trying to reenter the scene to arrest 14 protesters who resisted until the very end, paint thinner that splashed on the third floor caught fire when one of the protesters threw a Molotov cocktail.

Prosecutors said the entire lookout was ablaze when the fire on the third floor spread instantly through the iron frames.

A report also said a protester was allegedly caught on video pouring paint thinner, but prosecutors failed to confirm his identity due to his face mask and poor video quality.