By Kang Shin-who
Citizens, students and unionists started a 72-hour nonstop rally in Seoul, Thursday, to step up pressure on the Lee Myung-bak administration to renegotiate an agreement to resume U.S. beef imports.
Rejecting the government's latest decision to ask Washington to refrain from exporting beef from cattle aged over 30 months, a record number of citizens are expected to take to the streets over the weekend.
A coalition claiming a membership of over 1,700 civic groups said on its Web site that it aimed to draw a total of ``1 million people'' until June 10 to protest the beef deal and other controversial plans, including the cross-country canal and privatization policies.
Tension is rising as a growing number of university students and labor group members are joining the rally. U.S. Ambassador to Korea Alexander Vershbow's remarks Tuesday, which contain such words as ``disappointed,'' `` learn the science,'' threw oil on the fire.
The nation's two largest labor umbrella groups, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, have also threatened to go on strike in protest of the U.S. beef imports.
University students are also participating in the candlelit vigil ¡ª Seoul National University and some others have seen classes boycotted in protest at the government's decision to resume the imports.
In the meantime, a 56-year-old man set himself on fire early Thursday morning following a rally the previous day. He is in critical condition with severe burns to several areas of his body, according to officials at Hangang Sacred Heart Hospital in Seoul.
Witnesses said Kim doused himself with a flammable liquid and used a lighter to torch himself at around 2:40 a.m. in central Seoul after the rally.
The man has complained of not being able to win financial compensation from the government after he vacated his home in Seoul to help clear the way for a redevelopment project, according to police.