SEOUL, May 2 (Xinhua) -- South Koreans held a candlelight rally on Wednesday to protest the government's decision to continue beef imports from the United States in the wake of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in six years.
A crowd estimated by police at 500 and by organizers at 1,000 gathered in central Seoul to press the government to immediately halt U.S. beef imports.
Demonstrators waved candles, sang songs and held banners such as "protect the sovereignty of the people" and "stop U.S. beef imports".
About 4,000 police officers were on duty at the site to prevent any illegal activity, according to local media reports.
"I don't want my children to eat meat infected with mad cow disease," said Kim Kyung-ah, a 34-year-old mother with two sons. " I'm furious that the Lee Myung-bak administration has broken its promise made four years ago to ban U.S. beef imports if a case of mad cow disease was detected."
The government said it will continue U.S. beef imports but will step up inspections of the products following the discovery of mad cow disease in a California dairy cow.
South Korea's agriculture ministry said that the country imports U.S. beef from cows less than 30 months old, and there is no direct link between U.S. beef imported into South Korea and the infected animal.
The decision has heightened public health concerns in South Korea, the world's fourth-largest importer of U.S. beef. The country imported 107,000 tons of meat in 2011.
South Korea experienced similar candlelight vigils and street protests on a nearly daily basis in 2008 when the government decided to resume U.S. beef imports. The country banned imports of U.S. beef in 2003 after a mad cow case surfaced.？