SKorea minister heads for US beef talks, more protests planned
Minister Kim Jong-Hoon will meet US Trade Representative Susan Schwab to try to secure extra health safeguards, after Seoul's decision to resume the imports sparked off a month of mass protests and rocked the government.
Seoul insists it cannot meet protesters' demands to renegotiate the deal, signed in April just before the first summit between presidents Lee Myung-Bak and George W. Bush.
It says this would jeopardise a separate wider free trade agreement (FTA) and cast doubt on South Korea's good faith as a negotiator.
But less than four months after taking office, Lee is struggling to placate demonstrators calling not just for the exclusion of US beef but also for his own resignation.
The entire cabinet offered its resignation Tuesday, clearing the way for a reshuffle to take the heat out of the political crisis.
Thousands of protestors held a candlelight rally Friday outside city hall in central Seoul, waving banners and chanted slogans such as "We want renegotiation" and "People will triumph." The crowd was estimated at 8,000 by police, far smaller than the last rally on Tuesday which brought some 100,000 people on to the streets.
Some protesters against the beef accord have public health fears. Many also see the timing of the import deal as a humiliating concession to Washington.
They also target what they see as Lee's authoritarian style.
The conservative former construction executive, once nicknamed "The Bulldozer" for his hard-driving style, has promised to be "more humble" in listening to the people.
North Korea, which reviles Lee's government for its tougher stance on cross-border relations, likened the candlelight protests to those which ended military-backed rule in the South 21 years ago.
"They are an inevitable product of the traitorous rule enforced by the Lee Myung-Bak regime as it has frantically blocked the advance of the times, escalating its sycophancy toward the US and its moves for confrontation with the DPRK (North Korea)," said an article in Rodong Sinmun, newspaper of the ruling communist party.