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South Korean protesters clash with police amid rallies against US beef imports

South Korean protesters clash with police amid rallies against US beef imports

South Korean protesters fought with police, tried to overturn riot-control buses and smashed their windows Sunday amid a deepening political crisis over U.S. beef imports, hours after their president appealed to Washington for help to ease growing public anger.
A pledge from U.S. President George Bush on Saturday to address South Korean health fears over beef appeared to do little to calm the protesters' ire at South Korean President Lee Myung-bak for agreeing to an import deal.
The violence came early Sunday after a crowd estimated by police at about 40,000 rallied Saturday night in central Seoul against the April agreement they say fails to protect against beef potentially tainted with mad cow disease.
The demonstrators attacked police riot buses lined up to barricade streets on a key downtown artery, throwing objects, using ladders to smash windows and trying to overturn the vehicles.
Clashes ensued, with protesters hitting police with sticks and police striking back with riot shields. Some demonstrators were injured and taken away in ambulances. Police also suffered injuries.
Police apprehended 11 people for questioning.
The protests followed a familiar pattern _ the main rally being largely peaceful yet turning violent as crowds thinned and remaining protesters confronted police. Violence lasted until after sunrise.
Lee's fledgling government has been battered by daily protests over the April 18 agreement to resume U.S. beef imports _ banned for most of the past four and a half years over fears of mad cow disease.
The largest crowd yet _ which police estimated at 65,000 _ rallied Friday night.
Late Saturday, Lee's office said that Bush had pledged to come up with measures to ensure that beef from older cattle _ considered at greater risk of mad cow disease _ is not exported to South Korea.
Bush made the remark during a phone call with Lee, the Blue House said.
"President Bush said he sufficiently understands South Koreans' concerns and worries," a Blue House statement said. "In this regard, (Bush) pledged to prepare specific measures to make sure that beef from cattle aged 30 months or older is not exported to South Korea."
The White House did not respond to requests for comment on South Korea's statement.
In Washington earlier, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush assured Lee that the U.S. government "is cooperating closely with the South Korean government and ready to support American cattle exporters as they reach a mutually acceptable solution with Korean importers on the beef trade."
Lee remains caught between a pledge to his country's most important ally and South Koreans' anger over the agreement.
Protesters claim that Lee ignored their concerns about food safety and gave in to U.S. demands to help ensure passage in Congress of a bilateral free trade deal struck last year.
Both the South Korean and U.S. governments have repeatedly said that American beef is safe to eat. Protesters demand the agreement be scrapped or renegotiated to prohibit imports of beef from cattle 30 months of age or older.
Lee said Friday that demanding a renegotiation would spark a trade dispute with Washington that could affect South Korea's export-driven economy.
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.
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Associated Press Photographer Jin-man Lee and AP Writer Kwang-tae Kim contributed to this report.