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Protest called for Bush's visit to Seoul
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South Korean activists said yesterday they planned a large candlelight rally to protest US President George W. Bush's visit today and demand the two countries scrap a widely criticized beef import deal.

Bush's trip is likely to be his last as president to East Asia before going to Bangkok and then Beijing to attend the 2008 Olympics.

"We oppose the visit by Bush who sells US beef with its risk of mad cow disease that threatens the health and lives of the public," a coalition of activist groups said in a statement.

The groups have been behind two months of at times violent street protests against the young government of President Lee Myung-bak, sparked by his deal to end a ban on US beef imports.

Lee agreed the deal in April during his first overseas trip after taking office when Bush hosted him at Camp David, only to see it backfire at home.

"Just as Lee paid a big price to stay at Camp David in April, Bush will be looking to go home with a big catch," the protest coalition said.

The street protests have since dwindled as the summer holiday season has arrived but police said they will be on high alert for the short Bush visit. He arrives today and leaves tomorrow.

The election of Lee, a conservative former CEO, had been expected to mark a fresh start to ties.

Relations had become strained under Lee's left-leaning predecessor who won office five years earlier amid a wave of anti-Americanism.

The protesters' grievances include a free-trade deal signed last year between South Korea and the United States that some estimates said could lift their annual $80 billion two-way trade by as much as a quarter.

Surveys show a majority of South Koreans support the deal. Neither countries' legislature has ratified it.

Lee struck the beef import deal in April after US lawmakers said Congress would not approve the free-trade pact unless Seoul fully opened its market to American beef.

In June, South Korean and US trade officials reworked the beef deal to mollify a Korean public worried about mad cow disease.

(China Daily via agencies August 5, 2008)

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