Lee seeks report on protests

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Lee seeks report on protests

President Lee Myung-bak yesterday criticized a lack of self-reflection on the part of liberals who two years ago fueled massive anti-government protests over the resumption of U.S. beef imports, and ordered the administration to make an official report to document the incident.

In a cabinet meeting, Lee ordered the prime minister’s office and the ministries of foreign affairs, agriculture and knowledge economy to make an official report on the anti-U.S. beef protests of 2008, Kim Eun-hye, Lee’s spokeswoman, said.

“We must have a historical record on the crisis,” Lee was quoted as saying. “At the juncture of a historic transformation, the government must not remain inactive. It should look back on the past two years and make the period an opportunity for social development.”

Lee said conflicts and schisms marked Korea’s path to becoming an advanced country. Urging the government to make an “objective and scientific documentation,” he said he is not making an issue of the legality of the violent protests, but he wants society to learn from them.

“Two years have passed since the candlelight protests, and many of the speculations were proven to be false, but none of the intellectuals and medical experts who participated in the movement has shown signs of repentance,” Lee said. “Without self-reflection, society won’t be able to develop.”

Shortly after Lee took office, Korea agreed on April 18, 2008, to reopen its market to U.S. beef, lifting the ban imposed since the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was reported in 2003. After MBC aired episodes of “PD Diary” that addressed the possible risk of U.S. beef, the Lee administration faced massive public protests. The streets of downtown Seoul were marred by violent clashes between police and demonstrators throughout the summer. Lee eventually issued two apologies for having caused national unrest over beef imports.

Lee Dong-kwan, senior public affairs secretary of the Blue House, said yesterday that the president asked the government to document the protests in order to create a comprehensive white paper that can be used as a teaching tool in the future.

“The agricultural ministry and the prosecution have each made a report, but the president was asking for an across-the-board report,” he said.

The Grand National Party also issued a statement yesterday urging the Democratic Party and other opposition parties to apologize for having fueled and politicized the protests.

But Democratic Party spokesman Woo Sang-ho said yesterday that the 2008 protests will be remembered as a popular resistance to a government that had ignored the people.

“President Lee has turned a blind eye to the lesson from the public outcry and run the nation coercively, prompting Korea’s democracy to step backward,” Woo said.

Another DP Representative, Chun Jung-bae, who participated in the protests, said the candlelight demonstrations were a model of democracy that showed people trying to correct the government’s incompetence.

“Politicians must never forget the spirit of the candlelight protests,” he said.

Meanwhile, a senior GNP official said yesterday that Lee’s approval rating has risen steadily, reaching 51.7 percent last Sunday, according to a Blue House poll. Lee was elected in December 2007 by a landslide, but his approval rating dropped significantly in the aftermath of the protests. In a JoongAng Ilbo poll conducted 100 days after Lee’s inauguration, the president faced a 78 percent disapproval rate.

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