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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Trade Talks Go to Brink in Seoul

SEOUL, South Korea -- The United States and South Korea struggled to save a proposed free trade agreement in extended high-level talks late Sunday.

"They're still looking at options and figuring out if they can do it or not," said Steve Norton, spokesman for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Karan Bhatia, as well as the chief negotiators for the two sides, have been meeting since March 26 at a Seoul hotel to bridge gaps in contentious sectors such as autos and agriculture.

The proposed deal has inflamed passions. A man shouted "Stop the Korea-U.S. FTA" after setting himself on fire outside the hotel. He was being treated in a hospital for third-degree burns, police said.

Nearby, about 150 protesters, including farmers, students and activists, some wearing red or white head bands, denounced the talks, chanting "Down with the Roh Moo-hyun government," referring to South Korea's president.

A brief clash erupted later between some of the protesters and riot police carrying shields and truncheons, with one policeman falling to the ground with what appeared to be a bloody nose.

If the negotiations succeed, the accord to slash tariffs and other trade barriers would be the biggest for Washington since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, and the biggest ever for South Korea.

After an all-night session Friday, the two sides said they needed more time, and were talking late into the night Sunday. The original U.S.-imposed deadline was midnight Friday in Seoul.

Concern over the fate of the efforts, which began almost 10 months ago, was raised Friday when the White House hinted that the negotiations could fail. Spokesman Dana Perino described the talks as "not going well."