SEOUL • A mob of protesters threw eggs and water bottles at South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn yesterday, calling for the retraction of a decision to deploy a US anti-missile defence system in their home town.
South Korea on Wednesday said the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system will be installed in Seongju county, 200km south-east of the capital Seoul, by the end of next year.
The announcement sparked fury among the town's residents, who say the Thaad deployment would ruin their melon farming and cause health and environmental hazards.
"We apologise for not giving you prior notice," the Prime Minister said before a crowd of some 3,000 protesters gathered at the Seongju county government office.
The usually peaceful town has been roiled by angry protests since Wednesday when thousands took to the street carrying banners that read: "We absolutely oppose Thaad deployment." Town leaders cut their fingers and wrote slogans in blood on banners at the rally. Some of the politicians and protest leaders also began a hunger strike.
We apologise for not giving you prior notice.
PRIME MINISTER HWANG KYO AHN, before a crowd of some 3,000 protesters who gathered at the Seongju county government office.
"The government will do its best so the residents can live their daily lives without any concern," said Mr Hwang, who was accompanied by senior government officials including Defence Minister Han Min Koo.
But his speech was cut short by residents who threw water bottles and eggs at the Prime Minister and his delegation, TV footage showed.
Residents fear the Thaad radar could harm the economy and environment of their town of 45,000 people, where 60 per cent are engaged in watermelon agriculture.
Mr Hwang's visit took place a day after President Park Geun Hye told her government officials to adress concerns among Seongju residents over Thaad while calling for an end to "needless" squabbling within the country over the issue.
Seoul and Washington last week revealed their decision to deploy the Thaad system in South Korea following recent North Korean missile and nuclear tests.
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 202km. The Defense Ministry said it would operate low-altitude Patriot missile defence systems together with Thaad to help defend the capital.
Tensions have been high since Pyongyang carried out its fourth nuclear test in January, followed by a series of missile launches that analysts said showed the North was making progress towards being able to strike the US mainland.
North Korea on Thursday accused Ms Park of "offering the Korean peninsula to foreign forces as a theatre of a nuclear war". "She unhesitatingly sold off the destiny and interests of the nation and undermined regional peace and stability," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by Pyongyang's KCNA news agency.
South Korea's Unification Ministry yesterday defended the planned deployment as a "defensive measure", saying: "We strongly condemn the North's nonsensical slandering aimed at dividing our society."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES