About 2,000 people have protested against the deployment of a US missile system in the southeast of South Korea, saying the move could pose serious threats from North Korea.
Residents of Seongju county attempted on Saturday to reach the site where the Seoul government and the United States were to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), a system Washington claims is to deter missile threats from North Korea.
Hundreds of policemen were deployed to the area and a neighboring county to maintain order and prevent protesters from reaching the installation site.
Protesters chanted slogans against the system, saying the presence of THAAD would make them a prime target for Pyongyang. They carried banners that read, "No THAAD but peace." The protesters said the system would pose health and environmental problems.
The protest comes a day after a visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said in Seoul that the United States and South Korea would "proceed with the installation" of THAAD. During the visit, Tillerson met with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and acting Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and reiterated that the system was for purely defensive purposes.
Tillerson's claim has been challenged by China, which fears that THAAD could undermine its own nuclear deterrence. Beijing has slapped a series of economic sanctions on South Korea in a move it says is to punish Seoul.
Before leaving for China from Seoul, Tillerson expressed hope that the new government in South Korea would continue to be supportive of THAAD.
The US and South Korea have defended plans for THAAD's deployment in the face of increasing tests and other military moves by North Korea. Pyongyang test-fired a salvo of missiles earlier this month and officials vowed that similar measures would be adopted to counter the rising military cooperation between Washington and Seoul. The United Nations has imposed several rounds of crippling sanctions on the North over the country’s nuclear tests in recent years.