Hundreds of South Koreans have shaved their heads to protest a US missile shield they say will increase regional tensions. Seoul says the THAAD system will protect the country from North Korea's ballistic missiles.
About 900 South Koreans shaved their heads Monday to protest against a US missile shield designed to counter North Korean missile threats, in the southeastern county of Seongju.
"This is the most powerful way of displaying protest," protest leader Kim An-Soo said. "We cannot protest any bigger."
Many of the protesters, melon farmers from Seongju region, sat in somber silence as they had their heads shaved while a protest leader led a crowd in chants of "No THAAD!" in reference to the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (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 farmer. "We residents gathered here and shaved heads to demonstrate against its deployment."
An unorthodox protest
Seoungju residents chant slogans during a protest against the government's decision on deploying a US THAAD missile shield in Seongju.
Military tensions have been running high on the divided Korean peninsula since the North carried out its fourth nuclear test in January and followed up with a series of missile tests.
South Korea responded last month by saying it would deploy a THAAD system, a move that's sparked domestic opposition as well as protests from China and Russia.
But South Korean President Park Geun-Hye defended the proposed deployment of a US anti-missile system as an act of self-defense against North Korea.
"I urge the North Korean government to immediately stop all provocations and threats targeting South Korea as well as the development of weapons of mass destruction," the president said in a televised Liberation Day speech.
The holiday celebrates the anniversary of the Korean peninsula's liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945.
Both China and Russia are opposed to the THAAD system and accuse the US and South Korea of threatening their security.
Beijing suspicious of THAAD deployment
Beijing views the deployment as a US move against its own national security interests and a threat to regional stability.
Yet some opposition lawmakers in Seoul have sided with THAAD skeptics and called for the deployment to be scrapped.
US military officials have tried to reassure China that the THAAD system is only meant to deter North Korea.
US Vice Admiral James D. Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said the THAAD system - which has an operational range of up to 150 kilometers (93 miles) would never be used against China.
"We don't defend against China as a threat," he said in the interview at Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff building, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
North Korea has threatened "physical action" over the planned deployment of the sophisticated US anti-missile system.
jar/se (Reuters, AFP)