April 27, 2017 09:26
Angry protests on Thursday greeted the first U.S. military trucks carrying parts for a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery that is hastily being set up in southern Korea.
The U.S. and South Korean governments are in a hurry to set up the battery before the presidential election on May 9 as candidates still dispute the controversial deployment.
Some 8,000 police were deployed to block roads as the equipment was moved to Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province in an unannounced operation in the early morning hours. It had been quietly shipped to Busan last month and kept in storage until now. It included a high-powered radar that will be used to track incoming missiles.
The U.S. Defense Department said the THAAD deployment is aimed at "protecting the Korean public and the Korea-U.S. alliance" from North Korea's missile threat.
And the Defense Ministry here said, "The measure is meant to secure early operational capability by positioning some available parts at the site first." But it pledged the two sides will carry out an environmental assessment alongside construction of the necessary facilities.
As local protesters threw water bottles at the passing trucks and vowed to continue resisting the plan, China also voiced its protest.
"China strongly urges the U.S. and [South Korea] to stop actions that will worsen regional tensions and harm China's strategic security interests, cancel the deployment of the THAAD system and withdraw the relevant equipment," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.
He warned that Beijing "will resolutely take necessary measures to safeguard its own security interests."
China fears that the radar will be used to spy on its military movements and has already implemented an unofficial boycott of Korean business and tourism to Korea.
Presidential contenders here offered mixed responses. Minjoo Party candidate Moon Jae-in and Justice Party candidate Sim Sang-jung called for a halt to the installation. The People's Party's Ahn cheol-soo stressed the need to honor the agreement to deploy the battery but expressed regret over how it is being handled.
On the conservative side, Liberty Korea Party candidate Hong Joon-pyo and Bareun Party candidate Yoo Seung-min welcomed the move.
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