07/02/2008, 00.00
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Christians and Buddhists in the streets of Seoul against U.S. beef

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
Tens of thousands participated in the candlelight vigil, peaceful marches, and open-air Masses against the importing of U.S. beef and against the violence of the authorities. Demonstrators want to reopen dialogue with the highly criticised government, and make it understood that violence cannot stop protests.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - The non-violent public protests continue, organised by Catholic, Protestant, and Buddhist religious groups against the importing of beef from the United States, with marches and religious services in the squares in front of public buildings (in the photo, the Mass organised yesterday in front of the city hall in Seoul, by the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice).  Hundreds of religious groups, united as the People's Association for Measures Against Mad Cow Disease, brought thousands of people to the streets to ask president Lee Myung-bak to renegotiate the import agreements with the United States, and to criticise the violence and lies of the police against demonstrators.

Candlelight vigils will be organised in Seoul, in the square in front of city hall, until Friday, July 4, where a Catholic Mass was held today, a Protestant prayer service will be held tomorrow, and a Buddhist ceremony on the 4th.

More than 200 Catholic priests celebrated Mass on June 30 in the municipal square, in front of more than 40,000 faithful, including thousands of priests and sisters.  This was followed by a peaceful candlelight march toward the South Gate and Euljiro.  Dozens of participants declared a hunger strike against Lee's repressive policies.

Fr Kim In-guk announced the beginning of his hunger strike on television, intended in part to "share the suffering of the people and to be close to them. Our people are hurt too much by state violence, and their self-respect is trampled".  The religious groups want to demonstrate, with non-violence and candlelight vigils, their desire to resume dialogue with a government that is increasingly criticised, both because of the "humiliating" agreement reached over U.S. beef, in spite of popular opposition, and because of the violence used by the police to repress public protests.

Jeong Hae-gu, a professor at the Anglican university Sungkonghoe, observes that "Korean democracy has already passed the stage in which difficult situations can be resolved by arresting a few people. If the government thinks the current situation can be eased by increasing public security measures, it's a mistake".

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