A frenzy of South Korean Internet users has convinced the nation through Web postings and text messages that Americans were sending beef infected with mad cow — so dangerous that the Americans refused to eat it — to the country, mobilising thousands to protest. A blogger in the country explains why.
The rumours started when President Lee Myung-bak signed a deal in April with the United States to lift a ban on American imported beef, after it had been forbidden in 2003 following a outbreak of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The USA offered the country a sweeping free trade pact if they agreed to import the beef, worth 850 million US dollars (542 million euros) a year to the USA. An online campaign soon ensued in South Korea, warning shoppers that American beef was so dangerous that the Americans themselves were eating Australian and Canadian products and sending their own abroad. Children were advised not to go to school because of high contagion risks, and warnings given that mad cow disease was a cause of Alzheimer's.
The country's president of only three months, Lee Myung-bak, was blamed for supposedly giving in under US pressure over the agreement. This weekend, the frenzy reached its peak, with tens of thousands of people demonstrating with banners reading "Don't sell mad cow!" and "Out with Lee Myung-bak!" Faced with the objections, the South Korean government today announced that it would effectively ban imports of US beef from cattle older than 30 months.
This banner has become the main symbol of protest. It reads: "Our house is against the importation of diseased beef."
Other photos of the banner hung outside various houses were posted here.
Blogger and retired journalist Sehyon Joh writes from Seoul:
I am curious why Korean demonstrators, especially young protesters, hit the streets with lighted candles the minute they come across a political issue with an anti-American angle to it. Recalling the term "candle light vigil", I wonder if they are trying to add some religious fervor to their protest. Perhaps they want to attach a romantic connotation. Or maybe they were encouraged by — or even in collusion with — candle manufacturers.
Whatever the reason, demonstrators in the tens of thousands came out of their homes and lit candles once again to protest beef imports from the United States. One well-known actress went so far as to write on her homepage that she would rather swallow a capsule of cyanide than mad cow beef. But South Korea is a free country. [...]
Does this mean that we Koreans are such a gullible people that we can only react when the biased media and some unconscionable politicians and entertainers spread groundless rumors and unalloyed lies? [...] What makes us so gullible? Are we so collectively naive or stupid that we can easily be manipulated and swayed by politicians or other interest groups? I don't think so."