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(3rd LD) PM visits Seongju to alleviate concerns over THAAD deployment

19:57 July 15, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS details in para 5)

SEOUL, July 15 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn visited the town of Seongju, which was tapped as the site for the deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system, on Friday, in the face of strong opposition from the residents who questioned the safety and legitimacy of the government's decision.

The trip is seen as a move to alleviate concerns that residents may have about the health issues related to the missile system's powerful radar and questions raised about the fairness of the government's decision-making process.

"I would like to apologize for making the decision without prior notice," Hwang said during his visit, adding that the government will make efforts to ease residents' concerns over the safety.

During his visit, however, protesters threw water bottles and eggs at Hwang, reflecting their anger over the deployment.

The prime minister was blocked by resentful residents and physically barred from leaving the county for more than six hours. But eventually he succeeded in leaving the area.

Residents of the town, located 296 kilometers south of Seoul, began protesting this week after the government announced it would deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) there.

"The government will inspect THAAD thoroughly to guarantee its safety," the prime minister said. "We will also gather the residents' opinion on deciding the placement of the battery."

Hwang added the government will not deploy THAAD if there are any "slightest risks" in regards to safety issues.

He, however, pointed out that North Korea is constantly making nuclear threats and that under such circumstances the government had no choice but to take countermeasures to protect the country and safeguard its people.

Seoul and Washington decided to deploy the THAAD system in South Korea last week.

While the government and conservatives claim THAAD is necessary to better deal with Pyongyang's nuclear and missile threats, the country's opposition parties and progressive elements have expressed reservations over potential diplomatic conflicts with China and Russia.

colin@yna.co.kr
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