Arrests over Daegu subway disaster
SEOUL, South Korea (Reuters) -- South Korean police say they have arrested seven railway officials over the subway fire in the city of Daegu which killed at least 133 people and has left scores missing.
"Seven people (subway officials) have been arrested and are in custody here in the Daegu Joongbu Police Station," one of the detectives in charge of investigating last Tuesday's arson attack told Reuters by telephone.
He did not specify the charges, but police said at the weekend that they were seeking charges of negligence against subway officials.
The detective said arrest warrants for the suspected arsonist and two more subway officials would be sought on Monday, because they had been hospitalized.
"Initial investigations found subway officials were negligent in their duties," a member of the investigating police team said earlier.
Relatives of the missing, some brandishing placards demanding punishment of the guilty, and civic groups marched through the rain on Saturday to the subway station in Daegu, 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Seoul.
Most of the 300 marchers were overcome by emotion as they descended to the third level where the apparent arsonist lit a container of flammable liquid in a train, setting off an inferno which engulfed the second which pulled alongside.
Police said the suspected arsonist, identified as a 56-year-old former taxi driver with a history of mental problems, told them he had not wanted to die alone.
"I cannot find the right word to express the misery and tragedy we are suffering," Kang Dal-won, a representative of the families of the missing, told Reuters. "I want capital punishment for them," he said of those the police deemed negligent.
More than 300 people are still listed as missing after a conflagration which left some of the 12 carriages of the two trains strewn with skulls and bones.
Many of them, however, may be among the unidentified remains. Forensic experts say it may take months to determine who they are.
The investigator said the initial probe deemed three controllers negligent for allowing the second train into the station, where they knew a train was on fire.
They believed the driver of the first train was negligent in not reporting the fire properly and the driver of the second negligent for taking away the controlling masterkey without checking to see whether all the passengers had left, he said.
Domestic newspapers have suggested the train may have stood at the station for as long as 20 minutes with the doors closed and the majority of the dead are thought to have been aboard it.
The latest tragedy in a country with one of the worst traffic and public works safety records in the industrialized world shocked President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, who takes office on Tuesday in ceremonies scaled down to reflect public anguish.
"I feel shame and strong responsibility that those in charge of safety at public facilities worked with such a poor sense of safety awareness," he said on Friday. "We should feel like we committed a sin against the people."
Saturday's marchers also demanded that the subway station go unrepaired until the investigation was completed.
"The cause of the accident will disappear if the city rushes to repair the station," said Kim Hye-jung, another representative of the families of the missing.
Chief investigator Cho Doo-won said on Friday the driver of the second train told investigators he had ordered passengers over the loudspeakers to get out three times and waited 10 minutes before removing the masterkey and leaving himself.
"We are focusing our investigation on the possibility that he left the train at a timeframe that was not 10 minutes," Cho said.
"After he escaped, he said he had given his jacket to a co-worker. We discovered that the masterkey was inside that jacket." Asked why the driver had handed over his jacket, Cho said: "He did not provide the reasons for that."
One survivor from the second train, sitting in the second or third carriage from which he could not see the fire on the first train, said the doors did open initially.
"We arrived at the station, the doors opened and smoke billowed in. Then the doors closed again," Lee Chang-ho, a 27-year-old student, told Reuters from his hospital bed.
"The driver told the passengers twice through the loudspeakers that the train would leave soon."
Lee said he thought it was about 10 minutes before passengers were finally told to get out. Lee said he had groped his way up the stairs through smoke so thick he could see nothing, tripping many times over what felt like bodies.
"What hurts me most is if they had told us to evacuate earlier, fewer people would have died," he said.
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