South Korea's Cabinet offers to resign over U.S. beef
South Korea's entire Cabinet, including Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, offered to resign today to take responsibility for the government's handling of beef imports. Bloomberg News reports:
Han and the other 15 Cabinet ministers told President Lee Myung-bak that they would step down, said Kim Wang-ky, a spokesman for Han.
Lee agreed in April to lift a ban on American beef to win support from U.S. lawmakers for a wider free-trade accord, sparking mass protests (pictured above) against his 4-month-old government by people concerned about mad cow disease. Lee's approval rating has fallen by half since he took office in February, undermining his ability to win support for tax cuts and public works projects promised during the campaign.
"It's not just about beef anymore but everything about the Lee Myung-bak government that has lost public trust," said Kim Jung-youn, a 35-year-old Web designer who has participated in the rallies since May 2. "The resignations are just a show. It would be best for Lee himself to step down."
South Korea was the third biggest buyer of U.S. beef before imposing a ban in December 2003 over concerns about the brain-wasting disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Scientists say mad cow disease is spread in cattle by tainted animal feed. Eating contaminated meat from infected animals can cause a fatal human variant that has been blamed for the deaths of 151 people in Britain, where it was first reported in the 1980s.
The letters on the banner pictured read "Denounce the government's notification of U.S. beef imports."
-- Francisco Vara-Orta
Photo: Bak Seung-ryul/Associated Press