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South Korea's president turns to President Bush for help in beef dispute

South Korea's president turns to President Bush for help in beef dispute

South Korea's leader plans to ask U.S. President George W. Bush for help in defusing a dispute over American beef imports, his office said Saturday, as unrelenting protests battered his fledgling administration.
President Lee Myung-bak plans to phone Bush to "convey misgivings and concerns" South Koreans have about U.S. beef, and to ask the United States to refrain from exporting beef from older cattle, considered at greater risk of mad cow disease, the presidential Blue House said.
The move comes a day after South Koreans staged the biggest-yet rally against a beef import deal with Washington that they say fails to protect the country from mad cow disease by allowing meat from cattle of any age.
Police said 65,000 people took part in the protest, in which dozens of demonstrators and riot police were injured.
South Koreans have been taking to the streets nearly every day for weeks to criticize Lee over the beef deal, claiming he ignored their concerns about mad cow disease, behaved arrogantly and gave in to U.S. demands.
Protesters have urged the government to scrap the agreement and negotiate a better one.
The government has ruled out any formal renegotiation.
Lee said Friday that demanding a renegotiation would spark a trade dispute with Washington that could affect South Korea's export-driven economy, especially its key auto and semiconductor industries.
He also said the government would seek other ways to keep beef from older cattle from entering the country, and that the United States is "actively cooperating" to find a solution.
The beef dispute has turned into a political crisis for Lee, who took office just three months ago on a wave of popularity for promising to revitalize the economy.
But his approval ratings have nose-dived since the beef pact. A poll published in a major newspaper this week put his public support at less than 20 percent.
Lee was forced to cancel a traditional opening speech at the new National Assembly earlier this week because of an opposition boycott of the legislature.
All of his top aides offered to resign on Friday. In South Korea, senior officials sometimes offer to step down during times of crisis to deflect or diminish criticism of an embattled leader.
It was not clear whether Lee would accept the resignations.
U.S. beef has been banned from South Korea for most of the past four and a half years since the first case of mad cow disease in the U.S. was discovered in late 2003. Two subsequent cases were found.
Scientists believe the disease spreads when farmers feed cattle recycled meat and bones from infected animals. The U.S. banned recycled feeds in 1997.
In humans, eating meat products contaminated with the illness is linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal malady blamed for the deaths of over 150 people worldwide, mostly in Britain.


Updated : 2021-04-12 05:46 GMT+08:00