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South Korea Lifts US Beef Ban, Warns Demonstrators

South Korea has lifted a formal ban on U.S. beef imports. Authorities are also taking a harder line on street protesters opposing the imports, now that an amended deal has been reached with Washington. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

South Korean authorities says inspections of warehoused U.S. beef can begin immediately. They took final administrative steps which could make the beef available to South Korean consumers as early as next week.

More than 5,000 tons of U.S. beef are being held in South Korean customs facilities. It was shipped in expectation that South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's April deal to resume U.S. beef imports would soon go into effect.

South Korea banned U.S. beef five years ago, after a single American animal was found to have mad cow disease. Doctors say the brain ailment can be transmitted in some cases to humans who consume tainted beef.

There has never been a documented human case of such brain disease linked to consumption of U.S. beef. Regardless, many South Koreans have become convinced U.S. beef poses a health threat, and have conducted about two months of street protests against President Lee.

South Korea and the United States have now amended the beef import deal to bar shipments of older beef, seen as having a higher risk of mad cow disease. Prime Minister Han Seung-soo urged the nation to accept the new deal.

He says the beef deal may not be perfect, but the government has done its very best to safeguard the people's health.

Han adds, the government will take strict measures against illegal protests. Violence and illegal actions, he says, are intolerable.

South Korean police are already taking a more robust approach toward protesters, who have dwindled in numbers but become more aggressive.

About 130 people were detained early Thursday after assaulting police vehicles, and engaging in scuffles with officers on duty.