South Korea to implement US beef deal
Thursday, 26 June 2008

AP, SEOUL, South Korea  -- South Korea's government said Wednesday it would resume imports of American beef this week, hoping to move on from a crisis that battered the pro-U.S. administration with weeks of anti-government protests over food safety.

South Korea and the United States agreed last week to restrict U.S. beef exports to younger cattle, believed to be at less risk of mad cow disease, despite an earlier deal that placed few restrictions on meat shipments.

Korean activists, however, have vowed to keep rallying against new President Lee Myung-bak, calling for a complete renegotiation of the original April beef accord -- a notion rejected by Lee's government as a recipe for eroding its international credibility.

The Agriculture Ministry has requested the Public Administration Ministry to issue a legal notice Thursday on the resumption of American beef -- the final administrative step required before imports can resume, according to Agriculture Ministry spokesman Lim Ki-sang.

''The observation of an agreement is very important for state-to-state relations and it is very essential to maintain national credibility on the international stage,'' Prime Minister Han Seung-soo said during a meeting with top ruling party leaders Wednesday morning, according to his office.

Agriculture Ministry spokesman Yoon Young-koo said the legal notice, if made, would clear the way for American beef to return to South Korean store shelves for the first time since last year, when limited imports were briefly allowed before again being suspended.

Some 5,300 tons of U.S. beef, shipped earlier to South Korea but held in customs and quarantine storage facilities, will first undergo inspections before being put on the market, he said.

Faced with daily candlelight vigils, President Lee replaced his top advisers and apologized to the public for the second time last week. His entire Cabinet has also offered to resign.

However, Lee said Tuesday that he would not tolerate any illegal, violent demonstrations against the planned resumption of U.S. beef imports.

Demonstrations have dwindled in size, with about 900 people gathering Tuesday evening. Two weeks ago, some 80,000 people had gathered in central Seoul in the largest recent demonstration.

A coalition of civic groups that has spearheaded the protests responded that it would launch ''all-out efforts'' to prevent the resumption of U.S. beef imports.

''We're infuriated because President Lee apologized to the people and said he will now listen to the voice of his people,'' said Kim Dong-kyu, an official at the group. ''Now we learned his apology lacked sincerity.''

Kim said his group will mobilize activists at government storage facilities to block inspections on U.S. beef held there.

Opposition parties also demanded the Lee government cancel the legal notice plan, citing recent public surveys showing South Koreans still oppose the new rules on the beef imports.

U.S. beef was banned from South Korea in 2003, after the first case of mad cow disease was discovered in cattle there. South Korea had previously been the third-largest market for American beef.

Eating meat products contaminated with mad cow disease is linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal human malady.

U.S. and South Korean officials insist American beef is safe.

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