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S. Korea May Shuffle Cabinet After Bridge Disaster; 7 Held

October 23, 1994| From Times Wire Services

SEOUL — South Korean President Kim Young Sam will likely carry out a major Cabinet reshuffle in response to public anger over the collapse of a Seoul bridge that killed at least 32 people, government sources said Saturday.

The reorganization is expected to affect the prime minister, the construction minister and many other Cabinet officials, sources said. In South Korea, top officials are often held responsible for major accidents or scandals even when they are not directly involved.

Prime Minister Lee Yung Duk, who was appointed six months ago, has already offered to resign, sources said.

Less than a day after the accident, Kim fired Seoul Mayor Lee Won Jong and ordered a police investigation that resulted in the arrest of seven Seoul city officials.

Yo Yong Won, head of the city government's construction office responsible for maintaining the bridge, and six others in his department were charged with negligence and causing death, the Seoul district prosecutor's office said.

Prosecutors said the seven arrested had reported to the city government that there were no safety problems regarding the bridge, but they had failed to carry out statutory daily checks.

The construction office also did not perform repairs earlier this year after finding that steel girders supporting the bridge were badly corroded, prosecutors said.

Investigators said they believe that a 157-foot span of the bridge collapsed after rusted extension hinges broke under heavy loads.

City officials said repairs to the bridge had been scheduled for Thursday but were postponed because of bad weather.

A large section of the bridge collapsed during Seoul's heavy morning rush hour Friday, sending a city bus, a police van and several cars plummeting into the Han River.

Officials said the number of victims may increase as rescuers search the river. Some bodies may have been swept away in the swift river currents, they said.

Last week, an opposition member of Parliament had warned that urgent repair work was necessary on 12 bridges in Seoul to avert disaster.

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