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Final 4 Thaad launchers to be installed tomorrow

Sept 06,2017
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Residents of Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, park cars to block the road leading to the Thaad battery site and stage a sit-in protest on Wednesday. [GONG JEONG-SIK]
Additional launchers for a controversial American antimissile system will be installed Thursday in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, the Ministry of National Defense said Wednesday.

The ministry said four launchers for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system will be placed in the Seongju base to counter the mounting North Korean nuclear and missile threats.

Installing the four launchers will complete the deployment of a Thaad battery. A Thaad unit typically consists of six launchers, 48 interceptors, a fire control and communication unit and radar.

“The summary environmental impact study on the site was completed so we decided to allow the temporary construction work by the U.S. military to make additional deployment,” the ministry said. “Construction equipment and materials will be moved to the base tomorrow.”

The ministry said additional launchers, based on consultations between Korea and the United States, will be moved to the base along with the construction materials.

It stressed that the deployment is a temporary move to counter the North’s nuclear and missile threats. The ministry said a full-scale environmental impact study will be conducted to decide whether the deployment will be permanent or not.

Despite protests by Beijing and Moscow, Seoul and Washington agreed on the deployment of a Thaad battery in July 2016. Components of the Thaad battery arrived at the U.S. military’s Osan Air Base on March 7, 2017 and a radar system and two launchers were installed on a former golf course in Seongju on April 26 — less than two weeks before the May 9 presidential election that brought Moon Jae-in to power.

Shortly after he took office, Moon halted the deployment and ordered an environmental survey to boost the legitimacy of the process. But after North Korea fired intercontinental ballistic missiles in July, Moon ordered aides to start discussions with the U.S. on deploying four additional mobile Thaad launchers.

The Ministry of Environment on Monday cleared the way for the U.S. military to complete the deployment, announcing that its summary study found no safety problems.

Hundreds of protesters gathered on the road to the base to block the planned movement of the Thaad launchers and construction materials. The protesters said the deployment will begin at 2 a.m. Thursday, but the Defense Ministry refused to confirm the time.

About 200 protesters gathered as of 5 p.m. on Wednesday and the number is expected to grow. As of Wednesday, 500 police officers were dispatched to counter the protesters. The Ministry of National Defense said the number of police forces may grow to 8,000 in the likelihood of violent protests.

The protesters parked about 30 vehicles and farming machines to block the only paved road to the base.

Even before the Defense Ministry confirmed the deployment plan, China issued a strong protest Wednesday based on media speculation of the installation through Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang in Beijing.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]