July 15, 2016 Choe Sang-Hun / The New York Times & PressTV News
Villagers rallied under a sweltering sun to condemn the choice of their county, Seongju, which is about 135 miles southeast of Seoul, the capital, for the so-called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, known as Thaad. South Korea and the US say the powerful missile and radar system is needed to defend the country -- and US troops stationed there -- against North Korean missiles, but residents fear it will threaten their health and ruin their agricultural economy.
South Korean Villagers Protest Plans for US Missile Defense System Choe Sang-Hun / The New York Times
SEOUL, South Korea (July 13, 2016) -- South Korea announced on Wednesday that a rural southern county would be the site of an advanced American missile defense battery, the planned deployment of which has angered China and North Korea -- and, now, thousands of local residents, who demonstrated against the plan.
Villagers rallied under a sweltering sun to condemn the choice of their county, Seongju, which is about 135 miles southeast of Seoul, the capital, for the so-called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, known as Thaad.
South Korea and the United States say the powerful missile and radar system is needed to defend the country, and American forces stationed here, against North Korean missiles, but residents fear it will threaten their health and ruin their agricultural economy.
"We oppose Thaad with our lives!" the residents chanted, holding banners that bore the same slogan. Local political leaders, wearing red headbands, wrote the same vow in blood after cutting their fingers, a dramatic form of protest that has a long history in South Korea. Some of the politicians and protest leaders also began a hunger strike.
"If we lose our precious land to Thaad, we will be ashamed before our ancestors and posterity," Kim Hang-gon, who oversees the Seongju county government, told the crowd, many of them aging melon farmers, according to the news agency Yonhap. The county, which has a population of about 50,000, provides 60 percent of all melons sold in South Korea.
The opposition could bode ill for the American and South Korean militaries, which hope to install the Thaad battery by late 2017. In the past, villagers have joined forces with environmental and political activists to initiate prolonged and often violent campaigns against new United States military bases.
Most South Koreans support the country's military alliance with the United States, citing the need to deter the North. But many also fear that any expansion of the American military presence could worsen tensions with the North and with China, and in some cases could damage local ways of life.
After South Korea and the United States announced the agreement to deploy Thaad on Friday, local news reports mentioned Seongju and several other towns as possible sites. Protests against Thaad have since been held in those communities. Some demonstrators expressed concern that hosting the system could make their towns high-priority targets for North Korea in the event of war.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that the Thaad battery would be installed at an existing South Korean Air Force radar and missile base on a mountain in Seongju. The South Korean unit will be moved elsewhere, it said.
The deployment in Seongju will allow the Thaad system's interceptor missiles to protect from half to two-thirds of the country from North Korean missiles, the ministry said. It said the radar system would be positioned in such a way that its powerful signals would pose no threat to human health, an assurance that villagers in Seongju did not accept.
South Koreans are divided over the Thaad system, whose deployment has been sought for years by the United States but angrily opposed by China, South Korea's top trade partner. China asserts that it, not the North, is the system's true target, and Russia has joined Beijing in contending that its deployment would compromise their security and worsen tensions in the region, making it even more difficult to persuade North Korea to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
On Monday, President Park Geun-hye said that the deployment "neither targets third countries nor undermines their security interests." But critics of the government, including many opposition lawmakers, worry that China will engage in economic retaliation against South Korea and cooperate less on reining in the North's nuclear ambitions.
"It will do more harm than good to our national interest," a prominent opposition leader, Moon Jae-in, said in a statement on Wednesday. He also called on the government to submit the deployment for parliamentary approval.
Under its deal with Washington, South Korea will provide land and build the base for the Thaad battery, but the United States will pay for the missile system, to be built by Lockheed Martin, as well as its operational costs.
Some critics in South Korea found fault with the government's choice of Seongju as the Thaad site, noting that Seoul, with its 10 million people, will lie outside the coverage of its intercept missiles, which have a range of just under 125 miles. The Defense Ministry said it would operate low-altitude Patriot missile defense systems together with Thaad to help defend the capital.
On Monday, North Korea threatened an unspecified "physical counteraction" against the Thaad deployment, which it said was part of an American plan to build "an Asian version of NATO" to secure military hegemony in the region.
US Missile System to Deter North Korea's Threats PressTV News Videos
(July 13, 2016) -- Thousands of South Koreans have staged fresh demonstrations against the government's decision to station a US missile system in the country. A large rally was held in the small town of Seong-ju where the government has confirmed as the site of the missile system.
Seong-ju residents said they oppose the THAAD deployment, citing its potential risks to local environment and security. The head of Seong-ju local government was among the protesters, holding banners and wearing bandanas with slogans against the deployment.
Also in the capital Seoul, activists gathered outside the Defense Ministry building to show their opposition to the missile system. The demonstrations came after Seoul announced the site of the system.
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