Tue, Jun 03, 2008 - Page 5 News List

South Korea delays US beef imports

RALLIES With about 60,000 people protesting over the weekend, the government decided to put off the final administrative step needed to clear the way for imports

AP , SEOUL

South Korean protesters stand among police buses as police block them during a rally against resuming US beef imports in Seoul, South Korea, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

The South Korean government said yesterday it was delaying the planned resumption of US beef imports, after a request from the ruling party and large weekend street protests.

South Korean Agriculture Ministry spokesman Kim Hyun-soo said the ministry had decided to put off the final administrative step needed to clear the way for imports to begin.

He offered no details, including how long the delay would last.

The ministry had earlier requested that new quarantine rules announced last week be officially published today in a government journal, which would allow for inspections of US beef shipments to commence.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s Grand National Party (GNP), however, requested yesterday that the ministry hold off, party spokeswoman Cho Yoon-sun said.

The delay comes after tens of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets over the weekend to protest the government’s decision to implement a beef import agreement last month with the US.

US beef has been banned by South Korea for most of the past four-and-a-half years over fears of mad cow disease.

A total of almost 60,000 people rallied in downtown Seoul over the weekend to denounce the government and call for the agreement to be scrapped.

Police clashed with protesters and detained about 300 of them, though some were released. Early on Sunday morning police fired water cannons at crowds.

Protests last night were much smaller, with police estimating about 1,500 people gathered in central Seoul amid heavy rain.

Lee told GNP Chairman Kang Jae-sup earlier yesterday that he would take steps to resolve concerns after listening to opinions on the issue, presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said.

Repeated calls to the spokesman seeking comment on the reason for the delay went unanswered late yesterday.

South Korea agreed on April 18 to reopen what was the third-largest overseas market for US beef before the first US case of mad cow disease was found in Washington state in December 2003.

Public anger intensified starting on Thursday, when the government announced it would resume beef inspections this week. The weekend rallies were the biggest yet in a month of demonstrations.

Protesters claim US beef is unsafe and say Lee is ignoring their concerns, behaving arrogantly and kowtowing to Washington.

Lee’s government has repeatedly said US beef poses no safety risk.

The timing of the import deal — reached just hours before a summit between Lee and US President George W. Bush at his Camp David retreat — has also fueled anger.

Lee, a former chief executive with a top construction company, took office on Feb. 25 on a wave of popular support promising to boost South Korea’s economy and take a harder line on communist North Korea.

Though Lee’s margin of victory in December’s election was the largest ever in South Korea, his handling of the beef issue has seen his popularity plummet to nearly 20 percent in some public opinion surveys.

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