U.S. beef protests engulf Korean chief

It's not just about beef anymore.

As tens of thousands of people waved candles in central Seoul and other South Korean cities, a month of street demonstrations against the purported danger of U.S. beef broadened Tuesday night into a populist backlash against the country's fledging president, Lee Myung-bak.

Lee's entire Cabinet offered to resign Tuesday to take heat off the president, in office less than four months.

The resignation offer, which Lee has not acted on, came in anticipation of huge demonstrations. Police said 70,000 people protested in Seoul; organizers put the number at 700,000; media estimates were as high as 600,000.

Despite repeated assurances from Lee's government and the U.S., many South Koreans continue to fear that U.S. beef could infect them with mad cow disease.

But people are also angry about what they call Lee's arbitrary way of making major decisions, his tone-deaf response to public opinion and his choices of rich and, in some cases, unsavory business leaders for senior positions in government.

In April, Lee lifted a 41/2- year ban on U.S. beef put in place after a dairy cow in Washington state was confirmed as the first case of mad cow disease in the United States. After his poll numbers collapsed and street demonstrations gathered support, Lee last week changed course and reimposed part of the beef ban. But that has done little to appease protesters.