South Korea's president on Tuesday signed a slew of laws needed to implement the country's free trade deal with the United States, amid growing protests denouncing the accord at home.
President Lee Myung-bak's signing of the 14 bills came a week after his ruling party railroaded them through the National Assembly along with the U.S. trade accord. U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama already approved the deal last month after years of divisive debate in the United States.
The bills signed in South Korea include matters such as fair trade, monopoly regulations and local taxes.
"The free trade accord process is now finalized," Lee said after signing the laws, according to his office. "The Korea-U.S. free trade accord is opening up the U.S. market."
Trade officials say Lee already signed off on the trade deal itself earlier this year before asking for parliament's approval. Seoul hopes to get the trade deal to take effect on Jan. 1.
The pact is Washington's biggest free-trade agreement since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. Two-way trade between the United States and South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, totaled about $90 billion last year, according to the South Korean government.
Proponents say the trade deal would boost bilateral trade, a half-century alliance and create more jobs in both countries. South Korean activists, however, have been staging almost daily rallies denouncing the accord, arguing it favors Washington over South Korean workers.
On Saturday, about 2,200 people rallied in Seoul, with some punching and kicking police officers trying to disperse them. Police say the violence left 38 officers, including a Seoul police station chief, injured. Most of the injuries were minor but it was the most police casualties at a single rally in recent months.
Activists plan to hold other large-scale rallies on Wednesday and Saturday.
Kim Ki-ho, a South Korean cattle farmer in Gimpo, just west of Seoul, says he attended recent rallies opposing the trade accord due to worries the deal would hurt his businesses amid imports of cheap U.S. food products.
"I cannot trust anybody these days. The country has thrown away its people," Kim said. "I feel overburdened with worries."
AP Television News cameraman Park Bong-hon contributed to this report from Gimpo, South Korea.