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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

South Korea's cabinet offers to resign amid uproar over U.S. beef imports

SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea's entire Cabinet offered to resign Tuesday following a public uproar over the planned resumption of U.S. beef imports.

Prime Minister Han Seung-soo tendered his resignation along with other government ministers to President Lee Myung-bak, a spokesman at the prime minister's office said. Government ministers conveyed their intention to step down to Han during a weekly cabinet meeting earlier Tuesday, said the spokesman, Cho Hong-nam.

The president's office said it could not confirm the resignation offers because Han's meeting with the president was still under way.

South Korea agreed in April to lift almost all quarantine restrictions imposed on U.S. beef over fears of mad cow disease. The decision has sparked weeks of fierce protests amid perceptions the government did not do enough to protect citizens.

The beef issue has confounded the conservative, pro-U.S. Lee, who took office in February after a landslide election victory in December on pledges to boost the economy and bolster ties with Washington.

Both Seoul and Washington say U.S. beef is safe, citing the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health. Protesters say they can't trust what Lee says.

Scientists believe the disease spreads when farmers feed cattle recycled meat and bones from infected animals. The U.S. banned recycled feeds in 1997. In humans, eating meat products contaminated with the illness is linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal malady.

Lee dispatched several delegations of officials to Washington on Monday to help defuse the crisis and seek assurances that the U.S. will not import beef from cattle older than 30 months, even though that is allowed under the agreement.

Younger cattle are believed to be less susceptible to mad cow disease.

© The Canadian Press, 2008



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