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More Anti-Lee Myung-Bak Protests Continue
By Elise Yoon
Staff Reporter
Candle-light vigil at Cheonggyecheon Plaza in Seoul on May 10, 2008

Thousands of people — both young and old — sing along to a rock version of "Arirang," a well-known traditional Korean song, to end another night of candlelight protest at the Cheonggyecheon Plaza in Seoul on May 10, 2008.

Following a mad cow disease scare in 2003, beef from the U.S. had been banned. President Lee Myung-Bak lifted the ban last month while visiting President George Bush. Lee has an approval rating around 28 percent after only a few months in office. Already unhappy with the President, Koreans were outraged upon hearing his decision could bring mad cow disease into the country.

In one of the world's most wired countries, the entire protest campaign has been organized and spread through websites, message boards, and even text messages.

Starting around 7:00 p.m., speeches were given from a semi-truck-turned-stage. Most of the speakers were high school and college students, passionately shouting into the mic, some getting very emotional. This age group feels the strongest because the young students in school are the ones consuming the beef.

Dressed up as cows, a group of high school students took the stage to sing a song and dance. "We don't like the FDA," the lyrics often repeated. The crowd, including adults, children, and other students were having a great time dancing along to the music and waving their candles.

A music major taught the audience lyrics to a song he had written. It consisted of various things such as, "Chosun Ilbo" and "Lee Myung-bak;" after each line the crowd would shout, "Get lost!" The word minjoo was often used, meaning "democracy" or "popular rule." With the country's history of Japanese colonial rule and military dictatorships, Koreans are quick to act against such a conservative government. Many say they feel that they cannot trust the current administration.

"This beef is dangerous," says one female student, "everyone knows this, the government knows too." In regards to the possibility of consuming beef tainted with mad cow disease, "They say it's a very small percentage, but it's not about percentage, it's about people's health."

On the other side of City Hall, the Spring 2008 HiSeoul Festival is in its last few days. Many foreigners in attendance wandered over to the stream, curious about the commotion. Though having heard about the beef import issue, most were unaware of the cause for the gathering. Some foreigners expressed more concern over the Avian flu.

While Koreans in attendance claimed it is not a political issue, but one of health, one American felt differently. "It's silly. It's an economic issue but Koreans are turning it into a health issue," one tourist said. He believed it's not a matter of whether or not the beef is safe or not, but that the protesters are anti-American and therefore don't want U.S. beef.

An American businessman sightseeing at Cheonggyecheon stream had grown up in Kansas; his father raised cattle. In response to the issue of the age of beef, he explained, "Beef has to be aged for at least six months before consumption. It's not safe to eat freshly slaughtered meat." He said that there have been no cases of mad cow disease in the U.S. At least three have been confirmed in 2003 and 2006. Referring to both Lee Myung-bak and George W. Bush he said, "Your president is not out to hurt you."

When asked his thoughts on the festival, one French man residing in Korea responded, "I think I don't want to eat poison!" Coming for both the HiSeoul Festival and the protest, he feels the issue is economic and refers the government as business people, "They try to justify it with science, but it's not science it's ideology."

Holding one of the many signs that read, "We must protect our children from crime," one man said this is his fourth time attending the protest because he feels very strongly on the matter.

More demonstrations will be held at the Cheonggyecheon Plaza on May 14, 15, and 16 starting around 7:00 p.m.

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Elise Jong-Eun Yoon is serving as a staff reporter of The Seoul Times. She studied telecommunications at Michigan State University in the US. She covers the diplomatic community, travel industry, and other cultural events. Her hobbies include listening to music and swimming.






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