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UF students join protest against South Korean president

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Posted: Thursday, June 12, 2008 12:00 am

South Korean students and families gathered on campus for an unconventional demonstration Tuesday night to show support for a national movement aiming to spark a change in the South Korean government.

About 20 people, mostly students and their families, met on the Reitz Union Colonnade with candles in hand to discuss ongoing protests in Seoul, South Korea's capital, against the country's new president, Lee Myung-bak.

As they sat in a circle, the UF demonstrators mirrored the peaceful protesting methods used by 100,000 in South Korea and held signs calling for Myung-bak's resignation.

"Most of us are people who want to be there in spirit," said Sungho Oh, a UF doctoral student who has lived in the United States for six years.

The Tuesday demonstration was the group's second meeting in response to the massive movement in Seoul.

The Seoul protest started May 2 as a result of Myung-bak's decision to reopen beef trade with the U.S. after a five-year ban following a confirmed 2003 case of mad cow disease in the U.S.

The agreement, made April 18, angered many South Koreans who worry about the safety of American beef after the 2003 case, even though the World Organisation for Animal Health has since found American beef to be safe, according to a recent New York Times article.

The protesters have used the beef issue as a platform to express other grievances against the president, who was elected in December.

The South Korean community that gathered at the Reitz Union, however, is focused on supporting their people's efforts and not on creating a united political voice, said Yongseok Jang, a UF graduate student.

"We haven't reached any kind of collective opinion," Jang said. "We just decided to move along with what's happening in Korea."

Jang said the president has acknowledged the protesters' complaints but has not offered a solution to the plight.

"He made a public statement to apologize a week ago, but he didn't address anything he can do," he said.

"It was empty."

Jang, who was a student in the first generation of a democratized Korea, said the peaceful demonstrations in South Korea are different from the pivotal 1987 protest, when thousands rioted in the streets against the country's then military dictatorship.

"I haven't seen any demonstration like this," he said. "It's really kind of new."

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