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Quiet before Christmas in Seoul nightlife district of deadly crowd crush

Quiet before Christmas in Seoul nightlife district of deadly crowd crush
File photo of an empty street in Itaewon in Seoul, South Korea, May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Cha Sangmi

SEOUL: Usually glitzy and buzzing in the holiday season, South Korea's popular Itaewon nightlife district looks like a ghost town this year, as people still mourning 158 killed in a Halloween crowd crush go elsewhere for festivities.

Many Itaewon restaurants and stores have put up Christmas trees and ornaments, but back alleys that house the district's hottest nightclubs and bars and were the centre of the Oct 29 crush are conspicuously quiet.

Where there would normally be hustle and bustle, notes and posters expressing condolence line the walls - remembering the victims, mostly aged 20 to 30, who had been among thousands who had flocked to Itaewon to enjoy the first virtually unrestricted Halloween parties in three years.

Another 196 were injured as the crowd pushed towards a central intersection.

03:45 Min

Saturday (Nov 5) marks the last day of national mourning in South Korea for the 156 victims who died in a crowd crush on Halloween. For many South Koreans, there is no closure yet, with public anger growing. Lim Yun Suk reports.

"Itaewon used to be a place for Christmas parties, with lots of decorations on the street, but it has become very silent and sombre," local resident Lee Jun-hee told Reuters from the alleys.

Another resident, Kim Kyeong-nyeon, 65, said some businesses in Itaewon were trying to brighten the Christmas mood, but it felt too soon to her.

"People are still grieving. We might need more time," she said.

 A manager of a local hamburger joint said his business still suffered from the disaster, as did other restaurants and bars nearby. 

 "Now we have very few customers coming, and the streets are silent," he said, asking not to be named. "It's not Christmas yet, but I guess Christmas won't be so different."

The finance ministry said on Friday (Nov 16) that consumption at three major department stores had slowed last month. It identified the disaster as a factor behind that.

Many people are looking for other places to feel the Christmas spirit, such as the traditional tourist district of Myeongdong, where the Shinsegae and Lotte department stores have unveiled, as usual, their huge and vibrant festive displays.

To prevent accidents, police have set up barriers in viewing areas near the stores to control crowds. The Seoul city government now has a team to manage large assemblies of people.

"This constantly reminds of the tragedy," said Jeon Ye-hyang, 25, a local in Myeongdong, looking at the viewing areas. "That might mean that we won't be able to fully enjoy the Christmas atmosphere this year."

Source: Reuters/cm


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