From the beginning, with the grief still raw and anguished questions unanswered, the South Korean government distanced itself from the disaster that unfolded last year on a Halloween weekend in Seoul.

Nearly 160 revelers were crushed to death in a narrow alleyway in the Itaewon neighborhood, after huge throngs had amassed with no police officers to control them, despite official warnings that the gathering would be unusually large after the end of pandemic restrictions.

Over the days that followed, in a response that drew scorn and ridicule among many South Koreans, the government insisted that it did not have responsibility for public safety on the streets that night because the Halloween festivities had not been formally organized. Instead, the government blamed local police and other officials for failing to deal with the emergency.