Troubled times for South Korea's president

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The Independent Online

South Korea's cabinet offered to resign on Tuesday after an unpopular deal to widen the market to U.S. beef imports sparked massive street protests against the government, which has been in office a little more than 100 days.

The following are some of the issues and policy blunders that have diminished the popularity of President Lee Myung-bak, a former Hyundai Construction CEO who won December's presidential election by one of the biggest margins in the country's history:

- Lee is forced to withdraw, in the face of heavy criticism during the transition period, a suggestion to eliminate several ministries, including one that manages affairs with troublesome neighbour North Korea.

- After barely a week in office, three nominees for cabinet posts withdraw their names after allegations surface in the media that they evaded taxes or speculated in real estate.

- The government is forced to admit that it has little chance of meeting this year's growth target of 6 percent - part of Lee's main campaign pledge to boost the economy. Most economists say 5 percent is probably the best it can hope for in the face of a global downturn, soaring oil prices and high local inflation.

- In late March and early April, North Korea raises tension by expelling South Korean officials from a joint factory park, conducting missile tests, threatening to reduce the South to ashes and unleashing a torrent of insults directed at Lee.

- Infighting in Lee's conservative Grand National Party is widely held responsible for sharply reducing its winning margin in April's parliamentary election.

- Lee returns from his first overseas trip in April to the United States and Japan to face criticism at home for agreeing to a beef deal with Washington and not taking a tougher stand with Tokyo on the troubled history between the Asian neighbours.

- Protests begin in April against the U.S. beef deal. From late May, they continue almost nightly and grow more aggressive, broadening into a wider attack on Lee's rule.

- Truckers vote on Monday to go on strike over high oil prices, which threatens transport in the export-driven country. Other labour groups vote on work stoppages that could harm production.