SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Massive rival rallies were held in rainy Seoul on Tuesday (Aug 15) by proponents and opponents of a US-led anti-missile system's deployment here.
Thousands of protesters packed the streets of Seoul Square in front of Seoul's City Hall at 3.30pm local time, calling on the Moon administration to scrap the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or Thaad, system.
"The deployment of Thaad should be pulled back as it is of no use to defend South Korea," one of the rally organisers said on a podium at the square amid heavy rain.
"The US has recently increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula, voicing out threats of military action (against North Korea), but no one has the right to take military action here, and the threats must stop now," the organiser told the crowd.
They also demanded abolishing the "final and irreversible" agreement made with Japan in 2015 under the previous Park administration over World War II sex slavery, under which Tokyo did not accept formal legal responsibility but offered money and an apology for former Korean sex slaves.
Later in the afternoon, the crowd started marching to the nearby US Embassy, chanting phrases such as "No Thaad deployment" and "Stop joint military training exercises", referring to those between South Korea and the US.
The march continued until they tried to surround the embassy building, only to be blocked by riot police.
"It is my first time out here to make my voice heard, and I believe the deployment of Thaad is only for the sake of strategic security interests for the US, and we must stop the deployment before it triggers another war on the peninsula," said Han Min Woo, 37, who participated the rally.
The rally's organiser estimated the number of participants at over 10,000.
On the same day, rival protests were held separately just a few kilometres away, as demonstrators there carried Korean flags and waved banners, marching into Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul.
They called on the government to deploy the missile shield as planned for the sake of national security.
Park Nam Seok, 69, called the Thaad opponents "North Korean sympathisers".
"It is my patriotism to protect our nation that brought me here today. Their lax attitude towards the immediate threats from (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un can destroy us all," Park said.
About 6,500 riot police were mobilised on Tuesday, setting up barricades with buses at the centre of the capital to separate the two opposing rallies.
Tuesday's rallies came after the government concluded last week that electromagnetic waves and noises emanating from the Thaad battery site in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, are not harmful to local residents, following an environmental assessment conducted by the Ministry of National Defence and Ministry of Environment.
Currently, two launchers and a radar are operational at the site, while the remaining four launchers are being stored at a US base here awaiting deployment. A typical Thaad battery consists of six launchers.
President Moon Jae In, who earlier suspended the deployment of four launchers, ordered their early rollout after the North test-fired intercontinental ballistic missiles and intensified military threats.