About 2,000 people gathered at Seoul Plaza on Wednesday night urging the government to cease the import and inspection on the meat. They demanded that the authorities hold a renegotiation of the trade deal.
“In 2008, the government promised that it would stop all U.S. beef imports if a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was reported in the U.S. The authorities must keep to their words, shut down the trade and work on the renegotiation of the overall Korea-U.S. free trade agreement,” an association of civic groups against U.S. beef distribution said.
|Citizens participate in a candlelight vigil against the import of U.S. beef at Cheonggyecheon square in Gwanghwamun, downtown Seoul on Wednesday evening. (Yonhap News)|
“However, it is more than disappointing that the administration is changing its proclaimed stance, claiming thorough inspection could screen out problematic meat.”
However, the scale and intensity of the vigil was far lower than the months-long protests in 2008 that some estimated had about 1.5 million people taking to the streets calling for an impeachment of President Lee Myung-bak.
There were no clashes between the protesters and police. People called out their slogans and went home peacefully.
“This time it is calmer,” said an observer. “People are more levelheaded. Instead of drama, they are seeking practical ways to solve the issue. Fortunately or unfortunately there is the presidential election slated for Dec. 19. I think people will show their power through voting. In 2008, it was the start of the administration and venting frustration was a bit dramatic.”
The administration showed stern willingness to put a stop to the protest and prevent a rekindling of the 2008 mass-rallies.
From Tuesday, hundreds of police troops covered the hemmed the protesters and ordered the crowd to dismiss though no serious clash was reported.
Gangseo Police of western Seoul on Thursday arrested Kim Dong-gyu, a civic activist critical of the government, for continuing a rally after a police order to disperse.
He was to lead the Thursday rally in central Seoul.
However, it was revealed that the arrest warrant had been issued more than seven months ago for another incident.
“The police had not practiced the warrant for more than half a year and used it when he is to perform a legitimate right. It is a suppression of all protesters,” one of his colleagues said.
By Bae Ji-sook (firstname.lastname@example.org)