06/26/2008, 00.00
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Seoul revokes ban on USA beef import sales

The government gives the go ahead for 5,300 tonnes of beef to be defrosted, held in freezers since last October. In response, population gripped by fear of mad cow disease, announce pickets and sit ins. Clashes in port cities between police and demonstrators, over 120 arrests.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – The South Korean government has formally revoked the ban on US beef imports, in vigour since the out break of mad cow disease among American herds in 2003.  The decision to allow the meat back onto the national market, and the free trade pact signed between Washington and Seoul, has provoked wide scale protests among the population, for fear of the economic repercussions and above all the health risks.

Throughout the day, hundreds of demonstrators against the decision gathered in Koreas’ port cities - Busan, Incheon and Suwon – in attempts to block the arrival of meat imports.  The police charged the protesters, arresting over 120.  In Seoul an anti – government march also turned violent.

The lifting of the ban means that about 5,300 tons of US beef, held in cold storage since October, will now be inspected and put on sale. The checking of the meat will begin later today according to a spokesman for the agriculture ministry. In response, activists launched rallies at storage units across the country, prompting police to deploy in some places.

The beef row has posed a significant challenge to President Lee Myung-bak, who took office in February. Following the numerous protests, lee was forced into a cabinet reshuffle and arrived at making a public apology for the decision  The pact signed last week, after further lengthy negotiations, Washington agreed not to export beef from cattle older than 30 months - which is thought to be at higher risk of the disease.


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