August 15, 2016 / 9:52 AM / 2 years ago

Angry and THAAD: South Koreans shave heads to protest U.S. missile defense system

SEONGJU, South Korea (Reuters) - About 900 South Koreans shaved their heads on Monday to protest against a government decision to place a missile defense system designed to counter North Korean missile threats, in the southeastern county of Seongju.

Seongju residents chant slogans during a protest against the government's decision to place a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile defence unit in their town, in Seongju, South Korea, August 15, 2016. The banners read, "Desperately oppose the deployment of THAAD". Kim Jun-beom/Yonhap via REUTERS

Tension has run high since North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and followed up with a satellite launch and a string of test launches of missiles.

South Korea announced in July that a U.S. THAAD anti-missile defense unit would be deployed in Seonjgu, but residents have protested, citing safety fears over the system’s sophisticated radar and its potential to be a wartime target.

The plan has also angered China and prompted a North Korean warning of retaliation.

Seongju residents, many of them farmers cultivating a melon variety that has brought the county domestic fame, sat in somber silence as they had their heads shaved while a protest leader led a crowd in chants of “No THAAD!”

“THAAD should not be deployed at all, not just in Seongju, but anywhere in South Korea,” said Yoo Ji-won, a 63-year-old melon farmer. “We residents gathered here and shaved heads to demonstrate against its deployment.”

As many as 908 people joined in the head-shaving part of the protest, organizers said.

“This is the most powerful way of displaying protest,” protest leader Kim An-soo said. “We cannot protest any bigger”.

The South Korean defense ministry has vowed to minimize any impact from THAAD on residents and the environment.

“THAAD is a self-defensive measure we’ve decided to deploy to protect the lives of our people from North Korea’s reckless provocations,” South Korean president Park Geun-hye said in a speech on Monday.

Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; Writing by James Pearson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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