Beef Backlash Challenges Korea Lee's Reforms

SOUTH KOREA - As the public backlash over U.S. beef continues to grow, President Lee Myung-bak is facing a potential political crisis that could spell trouble for his reform drive and possibly trigger an economic dispute between Korea and the United States.
calendar icon 5 May 2008
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Analysts say the growing public furor over the issue could also hurt President Lee's efforts to build a stronger Korea-U.S. alliance and may fuel new anti-Americanism.

Over the weekend, thousands of protesters gathered for a candlelight vigil in Seoul, denouncing President Lee's decision to import U.S. beef ? this despite an assurance from Korea's agriculture minister during a televised conference last Friday that U.S. beef is now safe from mad cow disease.

Some 10,000 protesters joined the vigil over the past weekend, where demonstrators accused President Lee of risking the health of his fellow citizens.

The political battle over the U.S. beef issue will likely intensify this week.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Han Seung-soo and Grand National Party Chairman Kang Jae-sup are scheduled to hold a conference to seek ways to deal with the growing public backlash.

On Wednesday, the government will hold a hearing on the safety of U.S. beef, and on Thursday and Friday, the National Assembly will hold a session to discuss the issue.

President Lee's political opponents are also working to draft a bill during the current 17th National Assembly to nullify the import agreement.

The debate shows President Lee is again facing obstacles in implementing major initiatives, including the development of his Great Waterway Project and financial-sector reform. The current backlash may also be contributing to Lee's falling approval rating, which now stands at 35 percent, the lowest level since his inauguration in February.

Lee may find some comfort in the fact that leaders from Japan and the Untied States are also suffering from tumbling approval ratings: U.S. President George W. Bush's rating stands at 28 percent while Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has a 20 percent rating, according to the latest surveys.

Political leaders appear to have diverging opinions on the growing public furor. President Lee's Grand National Party claims the media and political opponents are the main force engineering the current backlash, but the opposition United Democratic Party members argue the movement genuinely reflects the public mood and Koreans' growing fear over the safety of U.S. beef.

Source: The Korea Times

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