S. Korea bans ralliesagainst U.S. beef

South Korean police refused Sunday to allow more candlelight protests against the resumption of U.S. beef imports, just hours after thousands of demonstrators clashed with riot police in the capital.

The government said it would not tolerate violent, illegal rallies. Authorities used police buses to encircle a plaza in front of Seoul City Hall – the main site for weeks of evening rallies – to prevent protesters from gathering.

Nevertheless, about 1,700 people marched into nearby downtown streets chanting slogans demanding the government of President Lee Myung-bak cancel its decision to lift a ban on U.S. beef.

Thousands of police quickly chased them away. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or clashes.

Jang Dae-hyun, a spokesman for the protest group, said police should cease harsh methods to prevent further violence.

The hard-line stance came hours after about 15,000 people – some wielding steel pipes and hurling stones at police – demonstrated, leaving more than 200 protesters and riot police injured.

South Korea has banned U.S. beef off and on since the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was found in 2003.