Alexa

South Korea warns against violent protests after clashes over US beef imports

South Korea warns against violent protests after clashes over US beef imports

South Korea's top legal official warned Sunday that the government was running out of patience following overnight street clashes amid rallies against a plan to resume U.S. beef imports.
Many South Koreans fear the resumption could raise the risk of mad cow disease in their country.
Justice Minister Kim Kyung-han, citing attacks on police buses and demonstrators' use of steel pipes, hinted that police could take tougher measures against protesters.
"The government has no choice but to take steps to protect law and order if social chaos that the general public cannot accept continues," Kim said. He did not elaborate.
He spoke after police and protesters clashed in central Seoul early Sunday, following a peaceful rally Saturday night by about 40,000 people against a beef import deal with Washington.
South Koreans have taken to the streets for weeks to oppose the agreement, which they say fails to protect against beef potentially tainted with mad cow disease.
The country banned American beef imports in December 2003 after a case was discovered in the United States. The two governments have been struggling to come up with a workable plan to restart the imports.
They thought they had one in the form of an April 18 accord, struck just hours before a summit between Lee and U.S. President George W. Bush at Camp David.
The deal _ which still officially stands _ has effectively unraveled, however, as South Korea was forced to delay implementation as protests mounted.
This was the second straight weekend of large-scale, sometimes violent protests, following several weeks of smaller, mostly peaceful ones.
The largest so far, which police estimated drew 65,000 people, took place downtown Friday night and was followed by Saturday's slightly smaller gathering.
That spilled over into early Sunday, when demonstrators attacked police riot-control buses lined up to barricade streets and block roads leading to the presidential Blue House.
Police and protesters clashed, even fighting each other on top of at least one of the buses. Clashes lasted until after sunrise.
There appeared to be no serious injuries. Police took 11 people into custody for questioning. In recent weeks police have apprehended hundreds of people, though all were later released.
Demonstrations continued Sunday evening, though participants dwindled to about 4,000, police estimated. Sporadic rainfall and the winding down of a three-day weekend might have helped suppress the number.
About 9,500 police personnel were deployed.
The beef issue has confounded the conservative, pro-U.S. Lee, who took office in February after a landslide election victory in December on a vow to boost the economy and bolster ties with Washington.
Both Seoul and Washington say U.S. beef is safe, citing the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health.
Protesters, though, demand the agreement be scrapped or renegotiated to prohibit imports of beef from cattle 30 months of age or older _ considered at greater risk of mad cow disease.
Underscoring the crisis, Lee and Bush spoke by phone Saturday evening.
Lee's office said Bush pledged to come up with unspecified measures to ensure that beef from older cattle is not exported to South Korea. The White House did not respond Saturday to requests for comment on South Korea's statement.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said earlier Bush assured Lee that Washington was ready to back U.S. beef exporters as they try to reach a solution with South Korean importers.
Separately, former President Roh Moo-hyun, who survived impeachment in 2004, has expressed opposition to calls for Lee to step down.
"To push for the ouster of the government does not agree with the principle of our constitutional order ... no matter how the beef negotiations went wrong," Roh said.
Except for a brief period last year, U.S. beef has been shut out of South Korea since the first known case of mad cow disease in the U.S. was discovered in late 2003.
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.
___
Associated Press Writers Jin-man Lee and Jae-soon Chang contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-14 04:53 GMT+08:00