Nightly candlelight vigils against THAAD deployment continue in Seongju despite attempts by the county chief and right-wing groups to undermine the protests. The Association of Seongju County Veterans Groups tried to halt the protests by applying for a permit to use the same location outside the county hall at the same times as the candlelight vigils. “Technically, the veterans groups do have a permit, but theirs is a ghost rally where no one comes out,” said a member of the Seongju Task Force to Oppose THAAD Deployment.
Without an official permit, the Task Force has had to obtain special permission from the county hall to hold the candlelight vigils in the county hall courtyard. But on September 11, the county hall abruptly denied its permission, citing “the sudden change in the security environment of the Korean peninsula after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test,” and tore down the protest banners and tents in its courtyard. Since then, the county hall has filled its courtyard with government vehicles and has stationed police and government officers there every night to block protesters from using the space.
Undeterred, the Seongju residents held their 61st candlelight vigil on September 11 outside the Seogju Cultural Center across the street from the county hall. “They’re trying to use North Korea’s nuclear test as an excuse to undermine the protest. From the residents’ perspective, it makes no sense at all,” said Lee Jae-dong, chair of the Seongju County chapter of the Korean Peasants League. County residents plan to continue the nightly candlelight protests outside the cultural center.
Residents Determined to Fight Despite Dissolution of Official Task Force
Since the county chief succumbed under pressure from the Park Geun-hye government and turned his back on the residents, the Seongju Task Force to Oppose THAAD Deployment has also been mired in internal division. On September 12, the day after the county chief kicked out the protesters from the county hall courtyard, the Task Force voted to dissolve itself by a narrow majority. Of the 29 members in attendance, 15 voted to dissolve the Task Force, and 14 walked out in protest.
The 14 dissenting members held their own meeting to discuss the election of new officers, then held a press conference to declare the dissolution vote invalid. “The Task Force was formed to oppose THAAD until plans for its deployment are withdrawn. Officially, Seongju is still the designated site. The idea of dissolving the Task Force while the Seongju residents are still fighting is absurd. Those who have given up on the fight should stop insisting on dissolving the Task Force and just leave the Task Force,” they said in a statement released at the press conference.
At the news of the dissolution of the Task Force, Seongju residents held an emergency meeting to form the Seongju Candlelight Defense Team to continue the fight against THAAD and make sure the candlelight vigils go on. “We have to hold those who voted to dissolve the Task Force responsible and normalize the Task Force. In the meantime, we, the residents will continue the candlelight vigils,” they declared at their own press conference outside the County Hall on September 13. The Seongju Candlelight Defense Team is composed of 250 residents, who have organized themselves into five different teams – planning, operation, general affairs, public education and transportation.
Their first task was to organize the 64th candlelight vigil the next day, which fell on Chuseok, a national holiday that celebrates the fall harvest. The next day on September 14, 1200 people lit their candles under a full moon outside the cultural center. They included those who had been away from home for work and returned home to Seongju for the holidays. A picket sign read, “This fall harvest holiday, let’s return THAAD back home too- to the U.S.!” Minjoo Party National Assembly Representative Park Jumin, who had gone to Seongju to spend the holiday with his in-law’s, also joined the candlelight vigil. He apologized to the residents on behalf of his party, which has yet to adopt opposition to THAAD as its party platform, and pledged, “Ultimately, we will not betray you- that, I can promise.”
Won Buddhists Join the Fight
Meanwhile, Won Buddhists have also joined the fight against THAAD deployment. The Lotte Skyhill golf course, the alternative site under consideration for THAAD deployment, is 1.9 km away from a sacred site where the denomination’s second head dharma master Chongsan was born. The location includes Chongsan’s home, the temple Daegakjeon and a dharma hall.
Won Buddhists formed the Won Buddhist Task Force to Oppose THAAD Deployment on August 31. At a prayer service outside the Defense Ministry on September 7, they declared, “THAAD cannot coexist with our sacred site. Should the government force THAAD deployment, we will mobilize all our resources to block it.” 500 Won Buddhist monks from around the country congregated outside the Defense Ministry building in Seoul for the prayer service for THAAD withdrawal.
Opposition Parties Reject Park’s THAAD Plan
President Park met with leaders of the major political parties at the Blue House on September 12 to garner support for THAAD deployment. Meeting with Saenuri Party Chair Lee Jong-hyun, the new Minjoo Party Chair Choo Mi-ae and People’s Party leader Park Jiwon, President Park stressed the necessity of THAAD for national security against the North Korean nuclear threat. She also chastised the opposition parties for leaving the nation in a “defenseless state” by opposing THAAD deployment without offering an alternative.
“Militarily, THAAD is incapable of stopping nukes and will do more harm than good,” countered Minjoo Party leader Choo Mi-ae, “Diplomatically and geopolitically, this is a sensitive matter- a question of U.S. versus China.”
“The president keeps saying we don’t have an alternative, but we did offer an alternative,” said People’s Party leader Park Ji-won, “The alternative is diplomacy and peaceful exchange and cooperation. The president needs to stop painting the opposition parties as recalcitrant forces.” Park also added the THAAD deployment issue needs to be brought to the national assembly for national discussion.
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