Residents protest against anti-missile system

SEOUL • A mock funeral was held in rural Seongju county in South Korea earlier this week, with people dressed in white holding up black signs showing the words Saenuri, referring to the country's ruling party.

Some 400 people gathered to condemn the party for supporting the central government's decision to deploy the United States' Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) anti-missile system in Seongju, in the eastern province of North Gyeongsang.

The government said the Thaad system is necessary to protect the country against growing missile threats from North Korea, but Seongju residents have been protesting every day since news of the planned deployment on July 12. Over 2,000 travelled to Seoul to voice their objections.

Apart from fears that the deployment would anger North Korea and China, there are also concerns about the presence of US troops. One protester told Reuters: "I have heard about the scandals involving US troops in other countries, so as a mother with daughters, I am deeply worried and strongly oppose Thaad."

Residents also cited fears that the strong electromagnetic waves from Thaad's radar would have adverse effects on their health and the environment.

Government officials said Seongju, a largely agricultural area, was chosen because of its low population of 45,000 and strategic location. If deployed there, Thaad can also protect key US military facilities in the nearby cities of Daegu and Pyeongtaek.

Farmers, however, are worried that prolonged exposure to the Thaad radar will damage their crops, especially a popular yellow melon called chamoe.

The government has tried to reassure residents that the Thaad system will be deployed in mountainous areas and will not pose a threat to their health and environment, but to no avail.

Chang May Choon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2016, with the headline 'Residents protest against anti-missile system'. Print Edition | Subscribe