South Korea says it has asked the United States to halt exports of beef from cattle over the age of 30 months.

South Korea's Agriculture Minister Chung Woon-chun made the announcement Tuesday and described the decision as a "humble acceptance of the people's will."

The decision reverses a plan to resume normal beef imports from the United States, and follows weeks of almost daily street protests against the plan, prompted by fear of mad cow disease.

South Korean demonstrators demand that President Lee Myung-bak cancel the deal he made with the United States to lift restrictions on U.S. beef imports, fearing the U.S. beef is not safe.

Officials asked the U.S. to respect South Korea's position.

Spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, Tom Casey says the U.S. is looking forward to resuming unrestricted beef exports to South Korea, but will cooperate with Seoul in resolving the controversy at home.

U.S. officials say U.S. beef has been proven safe and is exported throughout the world.

Seoul banned U.S. beef in 2003 after mad cow disease was detected in the United States. South Korea resumed imports last year, but restricted them to boneless beef from cattle 30 months old or younger.

The government in April agreed to open South Korean markets to unrestricted U.S. beef imports.

But the South Korean Agriculture Ministry announced Monday that the government had decided to delay the plan for an unspecified period.

The beef deal was a condition the United States set for a larger free trade agreement.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.