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Page last updated at 03:40 GMT, Tuesday, 27 May 2008 04:40 UK

Protests in S Korea over US beef

A student shouts slogans at a rally against the beef deal in Seoul on 26 May 2008

At least 29 protesters have been arrested in South Korea after a rally against a US beef import deal ended in clashes.

The scuffles broke out when police moved to break up the 3,000-strong demonstration in the capital, Seoul.

The protesters say that the recent relaxation of a ban on US beef imports fails to protect the country from BSE, or mad cow disease.

Support for President Lee Myung-bak has plummeted amid mounting public concern.

Last week, Mr Lee issued a public apology, saying he had failed to appreciate the depth of public fear.

But he criticised "unfounded rumours" over mad cow disease and ruled out going back on the deal.

'Expressing our anger'

South Korea used to be a major market for US beef, but banned most imports in 2003 after an outbreak of mad cow disease there.

An employee prepares imported US beef at a shop in Seoul, 13 July, 2007
South Korea suspended most US beef imports after concerns about BSE
Last month Mr Lee's government agreed to relax most of the restrictions - after US lawmakers made it clear they would not back a bilateral free trade deal without concessions on beef.

The move triggered public anger. Vigils and rallies have taken place on an almost daily basis since the agreement was announced.

Dozens of people were arrested over the weekend and on Monday night protesters fought police as they tried to break up a rally. Two people were taken to hospital, Yonhap news agency said.

"We've been holding candlelight vigils, but Lee Myung-bak's government keeps its stance against the people's demand," one protester said. "We're expressing our anger."

Last week, South Korean officials met US negotiators to clarify their right to suspend imports again if another outbreak of mad cow disease occurs.

And on Tuesday, Prime Minister Han Seung-soo said the government had done its best to reassure the public.

"Nevertheless, protesting rallies keep going on. They must not degenerate into political rallies that employ illegal activities," Yonhap quoted him as saying.


SEE ALSO
Koreans fight free trade deal
14 May 08 |  Business
South Korea relaxes US beef ban
18 Apr 08 |  Business
South Korea's GNP wins majority
09 Apr 08 |  Asia-Pacific
US and S Korea agree trade deal
02 Apr 07 |  Business
Beef row imperils US-Korea trade
02 Feb 07 |  Business
Country profile: South Korea
11 Apr 08 |  Country profiles
Timeline: South Korea
11 Apr 08 |  Country profiles

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