SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea's president replaced three ministers Monday amid the fallout from a much-criticized U.S. beef import deal, but left his Cabinet largely intact despite their offer to resign to stem weeks of anti-government protests.
Lee Myung-bak has been under intense fire over an April agreement to resume imports of U.S. beef. The deal has led to near-daily street rallies over perceptions the country could be exposed to mad cow disease, and the demonstrations have grown to include opponents of the conservative Lee's pro-business policies.
The shakeup was aimed at "making a new start" while giving other Cabinet members another chance, presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said.
Lee chose new agriculture and welfare ministers Monday because of the mishandling of the beef deal, while the education minister was replaced over alleged financial wrongdoing.
The protests forced Seoul to negotiate an amendment to the import deal last month to limit shipments to beef from cattle younger than 30 months, believed less susceptible to mad cow disease. But critics have called for a total renegotiation of the import agreement, saying more safeguards are needed.
Lee has publicly apologized over the beef issue and replaced top advisers.
But it is still unclear whether his latest response will help quell lingering public concerns over the safety of U.S. beef and satisfy the protesters.
The main opposition Democratic Party, which has been supportive of the protests that have been spearheaded by left-wing grass roots groups, said the Cabinet reshuffle falls short of what the people want.
"It is like pouring cold water on the public expectations," spokeswoman Cha Young said.
The new Cabinet nominees must go through parliamentary confirmation hearings, but it remains unclear when the hearings will occur because the Democratic Party is boycotting the National Assembly over the beef deal. However, the legislature does not have the power to block the president's appointments.