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Protests Against Government, U.S. Imports Sweep South Korea

More than 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Seoul to protest a proposed deal allowing U.S. beef imports and taking to task the teetering government of President Lee Myung-bak. A regional expert explores the core issues behind the protests.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Six weeks of protests turned into a massive candlelight demonstration this week, as citizens angry at their government spilled onto the streets of Seoul, South Korea.

    At the heart of the expanding rallies is discontent about food safety, trade, and the management style of new President Lee Myung-bak.

  • BAKE KI-WAN, Protest Leader (through translator):

    Lee Myung-bak is finished. We should topple him with the force of democracy unless he voluntarily resigns.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Some South Koreans are upset over a deal to resume imports of beef from the U.S., which had been banned after incidents of mad cow disease were reported in 2003.

  • LEE JOO-YEON, South Korean Citizen (through translator):

    I came here not only because of the mad cow disease issue of U.S. beef imports, but also because of all the policies the Lee Myung-bak administration is pushing without the people's consent.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Lee, who took office only four months ago, agreed to lift the ban in April, just before meeting with President Bush on trade matters in Washington.

    His decision sparked the biggest anti-government protests in Korea in 20 years. Yesterday, the entire cabinet offered to resign. Lee has not accepted the resignations, but has promised a new beginning.

    Before he was elected, Lee was nicknamed "The Bulldozer" for the way he operated as a businessman. After taking office, he promised economic growth and strengthened relations with the U.S., but recent polls show his popularity has since plummeted.

  • JOO HA-NA, South Korean Citizen (through translator):

    The president is not aware of the power of the people. We're desperate to let him know our mind, and I've shaved my head to let him know that not only the U.S. beef imports deal was not the right thing to do, but also all of the policies that are anti-common people.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Lee has not indicated whether he will re-impose the ban on U.S. beef, but food safety officials in South Korea and the U.S. have said the meat is safe. South Korea was the third-largest buyer of American beef.

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