Police investigate violent anti-Thaad protest

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Police investigate violent anti-Thaad protest

The police launched an investigation on Sunday into last week’s violent rally in the southeastern rural town of Seongju, where an angry mob besieged the prime minister and top officials for hours over the planned deployment of a controversial missile defense system.

The North Gyeongsang Provincial Police Agency said Sunday it is analyzing evidence collected from Friday’s rally in Seongju to identify protesters who used violence. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, accompanied by senior officials including Minister of National Defense Han Min-koo, became captives of angry protesters for nearly seven hours in Seongju, North Gyeongsang, on Friday.

The governments of South Korea and the United States announced Wednesday that Seongran-ri of Seongju would be the site to host the U.S. military’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, and Hwang and officials visited the town to persuade protesting residents.

In addition to North Korea’s physical retaliation targeting their town, Seongju residents also fear possible health hazards from the electromagnetic waves emitted by the Thaad radar.

During Friday’s rally, the protesters pelted Hwang with eggs and water bottles. The prime minister’s cell phone and notepad, which were inside his jacket pocket, went missing during the violent scuffle and were returned to the police more than four hours later. A car carrying Hwang was also involved in an accident when a resident tried to stop it from leaving the town.

During the melee, the head of the North Gyeongsang Police was injured.

A team of 25 police investigators started analyzing the video records of the incident to identify violent protesters.

Police also said they will investigate if outsiders instigated any of the violence during Friday’s gathering. Concerns were raised last week that outside groups, mainly made up of leftist anti-American civic protestors, would attempt to fuel the rage of Seongju residents.

Lee Jae-bok, head of the Seongju protesters’ group, said the residents will never use physical force again during their rally, stressing that their emotions were fueled temporarily because they fear losing their lives in the hometown.

He also told Yonhap News Agency that outsiders instigated the violence. “We told outsiders not to come, but so-called professional protesters came and angered the innocent farmers,” he said.

As the Seongju residents’ anger continues, the government decided to put more efforts into calming the rage of the Seongju residents. The Ministry of National Defense held a meeting on Sunday and decided to invite chief editors and editorial writers of media in Daegu and North Gyeongsang to explain the decision further. The conference on Monday will be attended by Minister Han.

The ministry also decided to make public the Thaad base in Guam in cooperation with the U.S. military. Seven journalists from the defense ministry press corps will travel to Guam on Monday.

BY SER MYO-JA AND SONG YEE-HO [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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