SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s opposition-controlled parliament voted Wednesday to impeach Interior and Security Minister Lee Sang-min, holding him accountable for government failures in disaster planning and response. probably contributed to the high death toll in a mass crush that killed nearly 160 people in October.

The impeachment trial suspends Lee from his duties and the Constitutional Court has 180 days to decide whether to permanently remove him or reinstate him.

Vice Minister Han Chang-seob will serve as acting minister until the Constitutional Court decides on Lee’s fate.

Lee is seen as a key ally of conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol, whose office has issued an irritated response to his impeachment, accusing opposition lawmakers of abandoning legislative principles and creating a «shameful story.»

Lee expressed regret after lawmakers voted 179-109 to impeach him and said he would plead his case in the Constitutional Court.

“(I hope) the public security (management) vacuum created by this unprecedented situation will be minimized,” Lee said in his statement.

Lee is the first cabinet minister to be impeached by the National Assembly, which previously impeached conservative President Park Geun-hye in 2016. She was removed from office by the Constitutional Court and jailed for corruption before her liberal successor pardoned her in December. of 2021.

Lee’s impeachment highlights the growing deadlock Yoon faces in a parliament controlled by his liberal opponents and could further intensify the country’s partisan political struggle that has fueled a national divide.

Lee’s indictment came weeks after police announced they would seek criminal charges, including manslaughter and negligence, against 23 officers, about half of them law enforcement officers, for failing to provide security that they say were responsible for the crowd gathering in Itaewon, a major nightlife district in Seoul.

Following a 74-day investigation into the incident, a special investigation team led by the National Police Agency concluded that police and public officials in the Yongsan district of Seoul did not employ significant crowd control measures despite anticipating large gatherings of Halloween revelers. They also ignored pedestrian calls made to police hotlines that warned of a growing crowd hours before the surge turned deadly on October 28.

Authorities also botched their response once people began being knocked over and crushed in a narrow alleyway packed with partygoers near the Hamilton Hotel around 10 p.m.

However, opposition politicians claimed police investigators went soft on top members of the Yoon government, including Lee and National Police Agency Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun, who were facing calls to resign. .

Police investigators said they had closed their investigations into Lee’s ministry and the National Police Agency before turning the case over to prosecutors, saying it was difficult to establish direct responsibility for those offices.

Oh Yeong-hwan, a lawmaker and spokesman for the main opposition Democratic Party, said lawmakers «followed the people’s order» by charging Lee, who he said should be held responsible for the deadly surge in the Itaewon crowd. He criticized Yoon for staying with Lee in the face of growing calls for his removal.

“The National Assembly had to hold (Lee) accountable, because President Yoon Suk Yeol refused to accept that responsibility,” Oh said.

Lawmaker Jang Dong-hyuk of Yoon’s People Power Party accused the opposition of «trampling on (South Korea’s) constitutional order,» insisting that Lee was charged without justifiable cause.

He insisted the liberals were motivated by political vendetta against Yoon, as his government prosecutors push an investigation into corruption allegations surrounding Democratic Party Chairman Lee Jae-myung, an arsonist lawmaker who narrowly lost to Yoon in last year’s presidential election.