중앙데일리

Stampede of protest over beef

Even the GNP disagrees with parts of pact with U.S.

May 07,2008
Top: Protesters stage candlelight vigils last night in Yeouido, Seoul to express their opposition to the resumption of U.S. beef imports. By Kim Tae-seong
The full resumption of United States beef imports into Korea has become a political hot potato, sharply dividing Korean government and legislators and sending protestors into the streets.
A ruling by Grand National Party yesterday suggested the April 18 agreement could be renegotiated. But the Agriculture Ministry and the Blue House quickly balked, saying renegotiation is “impossible.”
American beef imports are set to begin regardless of the age of the cattle.
Even Park Geun-hye, the former GNP chairwoman, came onboard, criticizing the government’s decision and urging officials to consider renegotiating the deal. Opposition party leaders threatened to propose a special law to nullify the decision to resume the imports.
The latest political dustup escalated further as people opposing the beef imports gathered in downtown Seoul last night for the third round of candlelit protests. More than 10,000 protesters crowded the streets in the heart of Seoul last week.
At a meeting yesterday morning, Grand National Party members decided to consider renegotiating the deal if “another mad cow disease outbreak is discovered or the level of such risk is deemed to be high [in the United States],” said party spokeswoman Cho Yoon-sun.
GNP legislators also suggested that all U.S. beef imports should undergo safety and sanitation inspections instead of the current partial inspections.
Korean inspectors routinely visit slaughterhouses in the United States and ban the imports immediately upon an outbreak of mad cow disease.
According to the agreement, announced during President Lee Myung-bak’s state visit to the United States, even if another outbreak of mad cow disease is discovered, Korea is not allowed to ban beef imports until the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, takes the United States off the list of “risk-controlled countries,” a process that may take several months.
“We should not just turn the entire right for inspections over to OIE and should be able to renegotiate if there’s another disease outbreak that could threaten public health,” said GNP Chairman Kang Jae-sup.
The move to criticize the government, highly unusual for a ruling party whose presidential candidate is in the Blue House, further intensified as former party Chairwoman Park, one of the nation’s political heavyweights, finally denounced the beef deal.
“The public is bound to worry since the government, offering no specific explanations or contingency measures, keeps saying it [U.S. beef] is safe,” said Park yesterday. “It’s the government’s duty to correct its action if the public is so worried.
“If the only solution is renegotiation, then we should do it.”
Meanwhile, the United Democratic Party continued pressing the administration, threatening to propose legislation nullifying the beef deal.
United Democratic Party Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu said the new legislation aimed at immediately stopping shipments of imported meats upon an outbreak of avian influenza or mad cow disease in the country of origin and to require the government to get the National Assembly’s approval before making decisions on issues related to public health.
“They keep saying that such an international agreement cannot be renegotiated, but the decision has not yet been ratified by the Agriculture Minister. So we should renegotiate the deal by putting the minister’s ratification on hold,” Sohn said.
However, Assistant Agriculture Minister Min Dong-seok said yesterday the renegotiation is not possible, in a press conference just several hours after the GNP made its suggestions.
“Even if another mad cow disease outbreak is found in the U.S., that From Page 1.

does not mean that we can immediately start renegotiations,” he said. “The two countries’ representatives struck the agreement after eight days of intense discussions based on international and scientific standards, so both renegotiation and further revision is nearly impossible except in very special circumstances.”
The Blue House also remained firm amid the criticism.
“In principle, there should be no renegotiation on the beef deal,” said a Blue House official who refused to be named. He said Park’s remarks that criticized the government are politically motivated and refused to comment on them.
Meanwhile, several protests opposing the beef deal broke out across the country yesterday, while some 1,500 civic groups formed a joint council to organize additional candle-light vigils and demonstrations on May 9 and 16.
“The people are again very disappointed by the Lee administration, which is brushing aside the public’s concerns as completely groundless,” the civic groups said in a statement yesterday during a press conference in downtown Seoul.
Government officials and legislators are expected to hold a public hearing today to address the major issues arising from the latest debates. Agriculture Minister Chung Woon-chun, Assistant Minister Min and other officials are expected to debate with legislators. Some former government officials who oppose resuming U.S. beef imports, such as former Agriculture Minister Park Hong-soo, will also take part.
Meanwhile, local schools and police are scrambling to prevent middle and high school students, who had a visible presence in last week’s protests, from skipping school to take part in future protests against beef imports.
A text message saying, “All middle and high schools across the country will take the day off on May 17, so let’s attend the rally [to protest against the beef imports]. Forward this message to your friends,” has been sent to many students since early this month. The origin of the message is unknown.
“Most of my friends in class and I have received the message since last weekend,” said Lee Woo-seok, a high school student in Anyang, Gyeonggi. “Some of us received the message more than three times.”
The police said they are tracking down the origin of the message, while municipal education offices and schools were busy sending warnings to students not to leave school for yesterday’s rally or upcoming ones.


By Jung Ha-won Staff Reporter [hawon@joongang.co.kr]





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