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Anti-U.S. Beef Vigils Feared to Escalate

Posted May. 05, 2008 08:15,   


The resumption of U.S. beef imports has reignited activism among Korean liberal groups, which had laid low since last year’s presidential election.

Liberal civic groups are leading candlelight vigils against U.S. beef imports across the country, including at Seoul Cheonggye Plaza Friday and Saturday, urging national opposition to the resumption both on and offline.

Pro-North Korea and leftist groups are also showing signs of escalating the protests into demonstrations against the United States and the Lee administration of Korea.

▽ Progressive group organizes candlelight vigils

The Korea Alliance for Progressive Movement posted a guideline for the “fight against mad cow disease” on its homepage Sunday. The guideline said, “Let us roll up our sleeves to help more people express their anger. Let us plan candlelight vigils in all regions of the nation.”

“Let us organize emergency meetings in every region and publicize unified public action guidelines.”

The group said it will “declare war” after holding an emergency meeting in Seoul Tuesday afternoon and hold a vigil at Seoul Cheonggye Plaza at 7 p.m. every day.

The alliance is comprised of 37 groups including the Korea Farmers’ League; the progressive Democratic Labor Party; the Korea Federation of University Student Councils; Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities; and the Pan-Korean Alliance for Unification.

An event to “nullify the import of mad cow disease” in downtown Seoul Saturday was organized by the Mad Cow Disease Public Supervisors under the Korea Alliance Against the Korea-U.S. FTA, led by the People` Solidarity for Participatory Democracy.

A television program was also aired on the danger of mad cow disease on the group’s homepage. Viewers were also encouraged to cut and paste video clips showing cows and people infected with the disease and Mp3 song files to other sites.

Groups are also urging each person to relay text messages to 10 people to participate in the vigils and post ads on blogs and bulletin boards.

The Democratic Labor Party is also taking part in the vigil movement by putting Kang Gi-gab, dubbed “a farmer lawmaker,” at the front.

▽ Groups moving toward protests vs. gov’t, U.S.

Progressive groups are showing signs of turning the vigils on U.S. beef into protests against the United States and the Korean government.

The Inter-Korea Joint Declaration Implementation Alliance, the Student Federation of the June 15 Joint Declaration and the Korea Federation of University Student Councils began Friday a petition drive against the Lee administration.

The petition is demanding the nullification of U.S. beef imports and the bilateral free trade deal; halting the rise in costs for U.S. forces in Korea and abolition of the 21st century Korea-U.S. subject alliance; removal of President Lee’s “Denuclearization and Openness 3000” proposal and ratification of the declarations made in the 2000 and 2007 inter-Korean summits; and denouncement of the “rich [Lee] government indifferent to soaring prices, a devastated economy and the lives of ordinary citizens.”

The three groups said the vigils were held to “halt the insane diplomacy of Lee Myung-bak” and urged the nullification of the U.S. beef negotiations, the ratification of the free trade deal, and the abolition of President Lee’s initiative.

The student federation posted an article on its homepage under the title “Let us hold a candle of independence, a candle against Lee Myung-bak.”

“Our people are not just mad at the mad cow disease issue. Lee Myung-bak, who kowtows to and gives his people’s lives to the U.S., is a pro-American traitor,” the article said.

▽ 2002 again?

The vigils are leading to fear of a repeat of 2002, when such events stoked anti-U.S. sentiment following the deaths of two schoolgirls at the hands of the U.S. military.

The two middle school girls were killed by a U.S. armored vehicle in Gyeonggi Province, but their deaths drew little attention at the time of the accident.

But after a U.S. court found two American servicemen not guilty, Koreans unleashed their anger. Social organizations demanded the revision of the Status of Forces Agreement and more liberal groups joined the movement, spreading anti-U.S. protests across the country.

The liberal groups blasted the accident as “the murder of Korean middle school girls by U.S. forces” and formed a national response committee to lead candlelight vigils throughout the presidential election period, dividing voters between anti-U.S. and. pro-U.S. camps. The vigils served as a major element in the 2002 election as an ideological confrontation between liberals and conservatives.

“The incitement of liberals is likely to cause ideological division by exploiting the people’s emotions rather than finding solutions,” an expert said. “We seriously need to talk about solutions for the national interest.”