Protests swell in places that oppose Thaad

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Protests swell in places that oppose Thaad

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Some 3,500 residents of Chilgok County of North Gyeongsang are rallying in front of a train station on Saturday against a possible deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery in Chilgok. Chilgok has been hosting U.S troops since 1960 and is one of candidate locations to host a Thaad battery. [GONG JEONG-SIK]

After the U.S. and Korean governments decided to deploy the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery here, thousands of residents of possible host locations are expressing bitter opposition.

Some 3,500 residents of Chilgok County in North Gyeongsang rallied on Saturday in front of a train station to oppose a possible deployment of the Thaad battery in the county. Some shaved their heads in public to protest the idea.

“The deployment cannot happen, period,” said Baek Seon-gi, head of Chilgok County, who shaved his head at the rally.

Baek was joined by four more people, including chairman of the county council Cho Gi-seok and other council members. Shaving heads is a common sign of protest in Korea.

The Ministry of National Defense announced Friday that Seoul and Washington agreed to deploy the U.S.-led Thaad system in Korea to counter North Korean nuclear and missile threats. It did not announce the location, and said a bilateral discussion to decide the location of its placement is in its “final stages.”

Chilgok has been frequently named in the media as a possible location.

“The fact that a missile system is entering my neighborhood is a horror in itself,” said Ahn Jung-soon, a 53-year-old stay-at-home mom in Chilgok. “What if North Korea decides to target my backyard because of the battery’s presence here?”

Many residents also believe the presence of a military facility will be a negative influence on local development and welfare of its people.

“Development at Chilgok always struggled because of the presence of U.S. troops here,” said Kim Yoon-oh, chairman of the civic council opposing Thaad deployment in Chilgok. “A Thaad battery in the county will bring local development to a full-stop.”

The civic council plans a petition of 30,000 signatures of residents opposing Thaad deployment in the county and will send it to the Ministry of Defense.

Electromagnetic waves are another concern for the residents. Thaad batteries emit electromagnetic waves from its radar system that detects ballistic missiles, and some residents fear exposure may cause cancer or other disease.

“Electromagnetic waves emitted from the missile battery will be dangerous for anyone within a 5.5 kilometer [3.4 mile] radius,” Chilgok County said in its statement on Tuesday. “Think about what that will mean to the 130,000 residents here.”

Defense Minister Han Min-koo stated in February that the radar will be harmless if people stay 100 meters away from the Thaad battery.

A Defense Ministry official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday that the Thaad system will be “located in a high-altitude, mountainous terrain” and will be far from residential areas.

The not-in-my-backyard attitude is spreading among residents of other possible locations to host the Thaad battery. In addition to Chilgok, Eumseong County in North Chungcheong, Pyeongtaek and Osan in Gyeonggi, Wonju in Gangwon, Gunsan in North Jeolla are among those rumored to be possible host locations.

Some 5,000 residents of Eumseong County in North Chungcheong will be rallying Monday to oppose a Thaad deployment in the county.

A civic council set up in opposition to Thaad deployment in Eumseong will draft a resolution, its representatives will shave their heads in protest, and an ice sculpture representing a Thaad battery will be smashed with a hammer at a scheduled rally.

“If Thaad is deployed in Eumseong, the price of real estate will drop altogether,” said Yeo Yeong-joo, a representative of the civic council. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it freezes much of the real estate market here as the region is turned into a military establishment.”

In a report, the council said as many as 23,000 residents and 617 companies within the battery’s 5.5-kilometer radius will be affected if it is installed in Gwanseong-ri of Eumseong.

The governor of North Chungcheong and mayor of Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, issued public statements opposing Thaad deployment in their localities.

Lawmakers remain divided on the Thaad deployment issue.

The JoongAng Ilbo and Korean Political Science Association surveyed 217 lawmakers from the Saenuri, Minjoo and People’s parties. Most lawmakers of the ruling Saenuri Party polled, or 84.8 percent, said that Thaad should be deployed with measures to assuage China. In contrast, 50 lawmakers of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea surveyed, or 58.8 percent, said that as long as China doesn’t consent to it, the Thaad system should not be deployed.

Among the lawmakers of the minor opposition People’s Party polled, 45.5 percent, or 15 lawmakers, were for the deployment of Thaad with measures to assuage China.

BY KIM YOUN-HO, HONG GWEON-SAM [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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