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Page last updated at 11:06 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 12:06 UK

South Koreans debate beef crisis

People in South Korea have taken their government by surprise with almost daily protests, thousands-strong, against a deal to resume US beef imports into the country.

As government officials try to modify the terms of the deal, South Koreans explain what lies behind the protests.

ALEX SANGYONG CHO, BANKER, SEOUL

Alex Cho
Alex (left) joined the protest after watching it online
I am not a political person ordinarily.

These days there are many demonstrations and they are broadcast every night on the internet. One night some weeks ago I was watching these demonstrations online.

I saw elderly people, mums with babies, middle school and high school students and businessmen with their suits - all demonstrating.

Suddenly at 0100 the police came with sticks and shields and were trying to hit people. I was so surprised to see it with my own eyes. I never thought they were violent people. I couldn't understand why the police acted like that.

After that day I went to the demonstrations. I saw how the government dealt with this issue.

This is a serious situation. The government didn't want to listen or to change their political way. The government is inflexible.

Beef is a real worry for people here. Korea is a really big market for beef. We deserve the best quality.

UM HYO WON, 27, BUCHEON
Um Hyo

I didn't take part in the beef protests. I don't think the beef is unsafe. And I don't think the protests are just about beef safety.

There are lots of problems in South Korea. The people here do not like the president's policies. He is changing a lot of things, making reforms about English education, opening our markets.

These are things South Koreans are not used to. We don't like opening our markets. Former governments have protected them.

But this time we need to change - and lots of people are unprepared.

I really support the president's new policies. Right now, the Korean economy is not that good. We need to make it more efficient. It is time to change and open up.

I expected these protests. It's not just a safety issue. It's also about the future of Korean agriculture.

There is a new kind of nationalism among young Koreans. It finds its expression in these protests.

YOUJOUNG HAN, 25, STUDENT
Yojoung Han
Most people participating in the demonstrations think the government does not listen to what people say.

We feel they lied about everything: about mad cow disease and about the privatisation of water, gas and oil.

The main issue here is US beef. People have been exchanging information online about how the South Korean government has distorted reports and documents.

The government kept telling us that the beef was completely safe, that all Americans eat this beef, that Koreans should eat it too. This is not true. A lot of people found information on the internet to contradict government statements.

They used the beef deal to test the government.

The reason why people are getting more and more upset as time goes by is because the government does not listen.

People are still protesting every day and I am happy to see that.

DAWIT KOH, 25, SEOUL
Dawit Koh
I think these protests are really big and fundamental.

It started out as a safety issue. We saw how the delegations from the Korean side had a hard time debating with the US over the beef deal.

But suddenly, days before our President Lee Myung-bak was due to visit the US everything was signed and agreed. It seemed suspicious.

It caused people to wonder what was really going on. The internet played a key role in this because it generated information the government did not provide to the public.

It started as small candlelit gatherings, really peaceful. But the real anger was sparked by the government's attitude. Instead of acknowledging their mistakes or faults, they accused people of being controlled by North Korean communists!

The protests were about resentment of the government.

The beef issue showed us that the president didn't listen to the people. He doesn't respect the will of the Korean people. I feel he sometimes talks about us as if we are satanic.

JANETT KIM, STUDENT, 17

Jannett Kim
People are really concerned about mad cow disease and how it could affect humans.

In South Korea, the government just tells us to believe what they are saying without giving specific statistics.

We are just told not to worry about it. We want more evidence.

Even though we know that there haven't been many cases, we want to be extra sure that there is no risk at all. We want solid evidence that the government will negotiate and renegotiate on our behalf.

We believe the government is not really acting with the welfare of Koreans in mind. It is more focused on economic benefits than listening to the people.

People believe in this cause. But we are also more upset because the government has been neglecting our voices for so long. People believe in this cause.

Emotions build up and it gets really passionate.

This more of a trust problem than a beef problem.



SEE ALSO
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Poll rebuff for S Korea president
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Political price paid in beef row
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S Korea seeks change on beef deal
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Country profile: South Korea
11 Apr 08 |  Country profiles

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