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U.S. envoy castigated for words on Koreans

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June 05,2008
Around 150 representatives from 50 civic, religious and Internet groups hold an emergency meeting yesterday in front of Seoul City Hall to urge the renegotiation of the U.S. beef import pact. [NEWSIS]


Politicians yesterday demanded that U.S. Ambassador Alexander
Vershbow apologize for remarks about South Koreans’ understanding of the science behind mad cow disease.

Vershbow made his comments after the Korean Foreign Ministry requested on Tuesday that the United States stop shipments of beef cuts from cattle over 30 months old.

The remarks quickly backfired.

The Democratic Labor Party held a rally in front of the U.S. Embassy yesterday. Members said that Vershbow’s comments “fueled the public’s anger” over the possible resumption of U.S. beef imports.

“Vershbow should tell Washington about the need to renegotiate the beef deal and must apologize for his insulting remarks,” the party stated.

Since Seoul reached a deal in April to lift the import ban and allow almost all cuts of U.S. beef into the Korean market, street demonstrators have swarmed the streets of Seoul.

They continued to condemn the Lee administration’s handling of the issue and demand that the beef pact be renegotiated.

After learning of the request to halt export of cuts from older cattle, Vershbow said that he “couldn’t deny that we’re disappointed by this,” adding, “We hope that Koreans will begin to learn more about the science and about the facts of American beef and that this issue can be addressed constructively.”

He urged Koreans to consider the issue “based on international science.”

The United Democratic Party and the Liberty Forward Party also criticized Vershbow.

“The U.S. ambassador had insulted the entire Korean people [by telling them to learn the science],” said Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of UDP, the largest opposition party. “Because the Lee Myung-bak administration showed such a humiliatingly submissive attitude to the United States from the beginning, we have to hear this arrogant talk.”

Sohn also said Vershbow called him on May 21 to complain about the UDP’s handling of the beef issue.

“He was rude to the head of a political party, and has not apologized,” Sohn said.

The United Democratic, Liberty Forward and Democratic Labor parties said they will not open the legislative session of the new National Assembly until Lee agrees to renegotiate the beef deal. A U.S. Embassy official reacted carefully to the politicians’ sensitivity.

“We are aware of the issue, but we have not decided on our official reaction,” he said, adding that he was not sure if Vershbow’s remarks had been coordinated with Washington.

Moon Kook-hyun, head of the Creative Korea Party, said Vershbow had told him that the United States is making substantial efforts to not bring in beef from cattle older than 30 months. After the two had lunch together, Moon quoted Vershbow as saying that Koreans will be able to get what they want without renegotiation. Moon made public the U.S. envoy’s remarks at the National Assembly.

Some believe that beef cuts from older cattle could more easily cause the human variant of mad cow disease, although no American so far is known to have contracted the disease through eating U.S. beef, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Street demonstrations continued yesterday in front of Seoul City Hall. A group of 150 representatives from 50 liberal civic, social, religious and Internet groups adopted a declaration denouncing the government’s request to the United States not to export older cuts, calling the step “deceptive.”

University students are planning a walkout to demand that the pact be renegotiated. Seoul National University students said the walkout will take place today, the first such action since students protested the beginning of the U.S. war in Iraq five years ago.

Students at Korea University said they will vote Tuesday on whether they will join the walkout. Students at Yonsei and Ewha Womans universities plan protests in their campuses today.

A clash between liberals and conservatives on the streets of downtown Seoul looked possible after a conservative group scheduled a rally on Tuesday afternoon to support a free trade agreement with the United States.

The free trade and beef agreements are separate pacts that are politically interrelated in both Korea and the United States.

Meanwhile, the People’s Conference Against Mad Cow Disease, organizer of the recent series of street protests, scheduled another rally for next Tuesday in downtown Seoul and invited 1 million to join in.

About 10,000 attended a candlelight vigil on Tuesday night, and protesters marched to the National Police Agency to condemn alleged police brutality while breaking up recent street demonstrations. No violence was reported, a change from last week. The Seoul National Police Agency said a 48-year-old man was arrested on charges of posting a message on the Daum Internet portal site that said “riot police strangled to death a female protester.”

The man had press credentials from a local newspaper in Ansan, Gyeonggi, police said. According to police, what the suspect presented as evidence was a photo of a police officer being transported to a hospital during a rally after having difficulty breathing.



By Ser Myo-ja Staff Reporter [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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