President Lee Myung-bak replaced nine of 10 senior presidential aides Friday, hoping that the reshuffle would help restore trust in his 4-month-old government, which has been shaken by a deeply unpopular deal on importing American beef.
The announcement came as U.S. and South Korean trade officials were reported to be close to an agreement to restrict American beef exports to South Korea to products from cattle under 30 months old, despite an April deal in which South Korea agreed to import meat from older cattle.
Lee, whose approval ratings have recently dipped below 20 percent, is struggling to quell furor over the April beef agreement, which triggered weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Lee's new chief of staff, Chung Chung-kil is considered an authority on presidential leadership.
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“I intend to start anew,” Lee said in a nationally televised address. “I ask the people to trust my new aides and encourage me.”
It was not clear whether the reshuffle and the revised beef deal would be enough to end the demonstrations.
In April, Lee's government lifted a ban on American beef that was imposed in 2003 after a case of mad cow disease was confirmed in the United States.