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S Korea opposition to end boycott

South Koreans taste US beef during a tasting event supported by the Korean Medical Association at a restaurant in Seoul on Wednesday
The US beef issue has been politically explosive in South Korea

More than a month of paralysis in South Korea's National Assembly will finally lift this week, after the opposition party agreed to end its boycott.

Deputies from the Democratic Party had refused to attend legislative sessions in protest at the government's decision to scrap a ban on US beef imports.

The issue also triggered near-nightly street protests in Seoul, and the sacking of three ministers on Monday.

Despite the DP's return, it is still making demands over the beef issue.

The party says that Monday's cabinet reshuffle did not go far enough, and is demanding Finance Minister Kang Man-soo lose his job.

It is also pressing for laws governing foreign meat imports to be tightened.

US beef imports into South Korea were banned in 2003, after the discovery of cows infected with BSE or mad cow disease.

But the government signed a deal in April to lift the ban, prompting the opposition boycott and street protests over fears the move could re-expose the country to the deadly disease.

President Lee Myung-bak has publicly apologised for his handling of the issue, and the government has negotiated an amendment to the import deal, which limits shipments to beef from cattle younger than 30 months, believed less susceptible to mad cow disease.

Travel ban

The National Assembly will convene on Thursday to elect a speaker, and open formally on Friday, said DP officials.

Candlelit protest against US beef imports in Seoul, South Korea, on Saturday
For weeks, near-nightly protests were held in Seoul and elsewhere
The move will finally allow deputies to begin clearing some of the legislative backlog accumulated in the weeks of political turmoil sparked by the beef issue.

Among the tasks facing deputies is the ratification of a free trade agreement with the US. US deputies had linked their own ratification of the agreement to South Korea's acceptance of US beef.

US beef is now being imported, but as part of measures to calm public concerns over food safety, restaurants are being required to identify the origin of beef being served.

Meanwhile, prosecutors have taken steps against protesters who tried to orchestrate a boycott of companies that placed adverts in three conservative newspapers harshly critical of the beef protests.

The Seoul prosecutors' office said a travel ban had been placed on about 20 people who established a website to promote the boycott on companies who placed ads in the so-called "Cho-Joong-Dong" triad of papers - Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo.

It said they plan to summon the protesters for questioning as soon as possible.

The move follows the Korea Communication Standards Commission's ruling that the web boycott campaigns were illegal.




SEE ALSO
S Korea president sacks ministers
07 Jul 08 |  Asia-Pacific
S Korea head admits beef failings
07 Jul 08 |  Asia-Pacific
S Korea strike to hit carmakers
02 Jul 08 |  Business
S Korea-US deal on beef exports
21 Jun 08 |  Asia-Pacific
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20 Jun 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Q&A: S Korea beef protests
25 Jun 08 |  Asia-Pacific

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