Seoul Government Told to Resign

SEOUL -- The South Korean opposition demanded Thursday that all 24 members of the Cabinet resign because of a deadly department store collapse a week ago.


Lee Ki-taik, head of the leading opposition group, the Democratic Party, also demanded that President Kim Young-sam apologize for failing to prevent one of the country's worst peacetime disasters.


"The accident once again proved the government's inability and ineffectiveness," Lee said in a speech at the National Assembly.


Workers continued to search for bodies in the rubble of the upscale Sampoong Department Store. The death toll, growing steadily with continuing excavation work, had risen to 135 by nightfall. More than 900 people were injured, many seriously, and about 300 others were listed as missing.


Lee said the government had failed repeatedly to keep promises to prevent such accidents. A series of major public-works disasters in the past year already had killed more than 140 people before the department store collapsed June 29.


"The same day when U.S. and Russian satellites made a space docking with perfect precision, the shameful accident occurred in Korea, which is aspiring to join the ranks of advanced countries," Lee said.


Lee claimed the collapse was an "inevitable" byproduct of the government's pursuit of fast economic development.


"It's time to put an end to the expansion-first policy," Lee said. "We should recognize that sound spiritual health is more important than the mere materialistic expansion."


He was referring to Korea's breakneck economic development, a side effect of which has been public-works accidents.


Kim, whose governing Democratic Liberal Party controls the one-house parliament, was unlikely to accept Lee's demand but reportedly was considering a partial government reorganization.


In South Korea and other Asian democracies, a Cabinet reshuffle is a common way of taking responsibility for accidents involving public works and other avoidable disasters.