SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MORE than two months of protests in South Korea against a US beef deal and the policies of the new president have cost Asia's fourth-largest economy about $2.5 billion (S$3.4 billion), a study released on Tuesday said.
South Koreans have clogged the streets of central Seoul on a near-nightly basis since early May, in protests that have caused a crisis for President Lee Myung-bak and his four-month-old government.
The protests have paralysed transport in central Seoul and delayed Lee's plans to introduce reforms such as tax cuts across the economy and mortgage-debt relief for low-income households due to a sharp fall in his support rate.
The report, from the Korea Economic Research Institute, said the total damage to the economy was about 2.6 trillion won (S$3.4 million).
The figure included 668.5 billion won in direct losses through lost sales, decreased production and public spending on items such as deploying police to the protests.
There was another 1.9 trillion won in indirect losses due to delays in implementing plans that were anticipated for the start of the Lee government, such as privatising state-run banks and cutting fuel taxes.
Surveys show that while most South Koreans do not approve of the beef import deal struck in April, about two-thirds of respondents said they wanted the protests to end.
Organisers said that, starting this week, they will no longer hold rallies on a nightly basis but plan to stage major protests at the weekends.
Mr Lee sacked three ministers on Monday in his first cabinet reshuffle since taking office in February in a move aimed at wining back support.
South Korean and US trade envoys reworked the beef deal in June with a private-sector agreement that limits trade in beef to cattle under 30 months of age, thought to pose a low risk for mad cow disease, and prohibits shipments of risky body parts. -- REUTERS