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Opposition to THAAD deployment in S.Korea gets stronger among villagers

Villagers living near a site in South Koreawhere one Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery will be deployed have voiced stronger opposition to the installation of the U.S. missile defense system in their hometown.

Right after Seoul's defense ministry said last Wednesday that one THAAD battery will be deployed to the Seongju county, some 300 km southeast of Seoul, by the end of next year, more than 200 villagers including the county head rode buses to get to the defense ministry's headquarters in the capital city.

The villagers wore a red band around heads or shoulders that read "Absolute Objection to THAAD," demonstrating in a building beside the defense ministry's headquarters against the decision to deploy the U.S. interceptors and hazardous radar without any prior notice and discussion.

The THAAD's X-band radar is known to emit super-strong microwave detrimental to human body. It can also cause an environment hazard, boosting worries among villagers about the oriental melon farming, the economic mainstay of the Seongju county. Villagers returned home almost at midnight after the seven-hour protest.

The next day, President Park Geun-hye told government officials to make efforts to appease concerns among villagers, saying it is time to stop needless squabbling over THAAD. Later in the day, she left for Mongolia to attend the ASEM summit and her first state-visit to the country.

Despite her comments, protests continued. Twelve villagers, including the county head, resumed hunger strikes, while five hog and bee farmers had their hairs shaved to protest against THAAD. Civic groups rallied nationwide, demanding the immediate scrapping of the THAAD deployment decision.

About 30 civic organizations in North Gyeongsang province held a rally in front of the ruling Saenuri Party's headquarters in the region, saying the unilateral decision cannot be tolerated and that there is no optimal site for THAAD in South Korea, according to Yonhap News Agency. The region is a political home turf for the ruling party and President Park.

Fury among villagers peaked on Friday when angry protesters threw water bottles and eggs at Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and Defense Minister Han Min-koo who visited the Seongju county to appease residents. Some shouted and another hurled abuses, while others violently tussled with security guards, according to TV footage.

The prime minister and other accompanying government officials were trapped for six and a half hours in a bus surrounded by about 3,000 villagers. The bus, in which Hwang sheltered, was made dirty by pelted eggs. The entrance to a parking lot was blocked by two tractors, driven by protesters.

On Saturday, police formed a dedicated team to investigate into residents involved in violence to block the prime minister from escaping from the Seongju county, according to local media reports. Protesters involved in the violence can reportedly serve jail term.

Over the weekend, civic groups held rallies in central Seoul to demonstrate against the THAAD deployment. On the other side, some conservative activists rallied to favor the deployment for national security. Violent conflicts between them didn't happen during their coincident rallies.

Despite strong regional objections, there are more South Koreans in favor of the THAAD deployment than those against it due mainly to misunderstandings about the U.S. missile defense system.

According to a Gallup Korea poll of 1,004 adults conducted between Tuesday and Thursday last week, 50 percent favored the deployment while 32 percent was against it. The remaining abstained from replying.

U.S. interceptors cannot shoot down short-range missiles from the DPRKas THAAD is designed to intercept at an altitude of 40-150 km using a hit-to-kill approach, sadi experts. There is no reason for the DPRK to attack South Korea with a long-range missile that takes much longer to reach targets and are vulnerable to interceptions.

THAAD, if deployed in the Seongju county, cannot cover Seoul and its surrounding metropolitan area given its maximum range of 200km. The DPRK's submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) can be fired away from the THAAD radar's detectable angle in times of emergency, confirming concerns that THAAD is not a cure-all.

The THAAD battery deployed in Guam is scheduled to be disclosed to South Korean journalists on Monday to help South Korea's government appease public worries about the hazardous radar, according to local news report.

However, the disclosure is not expected to ease concerns here as the radar in Guam faces no residential area some 3 km from the site and faces toward the sea in contrast to the radar in South Korea that will face a densely populated region some 1.5 km away.

[ Editor: meng ]