Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Thursday the deployment of the U.S. THAAD missile defense system was a "difficult yet inevitable decision" aimed at coping with North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.
Lee made the remark after the four additional interceptor launchers for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense unit were installed in the southeastern town of Seongju following violent clashes between riot police and villagers opposing the deployment.
Dozens of police and residents were injured during the overnight clash.
"THAAD's deployment was a difficult yet inevitable decision by the government that has the obligation to safeguard the national security and protect the lives and safety of the people in response to the sophistication of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs," Lee said during a government policy coordination meeting.
Lee said he was sorry for not accepting the demand of those opposed to the deployment. He also wished residents and police injured during the clash an early recovery.
"The government will make sure to take follow-up measures swiftly," Lee said. "While working together with the international community trying to curb the North's provocations, we will also bolster our self-defense capabilities so as to defend the lives and safety of the people."
The government will also try to heal the wounds of residents in Seongju and provide support for the region's development, Lee said. He also said that the government will also take steps to address health and other concerns residents have over the deployment.
Lee also instructed the defense, interior and environment ministers to provide a detailed briefing.
Thursday's installation of the four launchers marked the completion of a full six-launcher battery.
The other two launchers had already been installed earlier this year during the administration of ousted former President Park Geun-hye.
Upon taking office, President Moon Jae-in put on hold the installation of the four pending an environmental assessment but decided in late July to go ahead with their installation after the North conducted a second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The issue has plagued South Korea for years as not only residents but also China protested the deployment. Beijing sees THAAD as a threat to its security interests and has taken a number of apparent economic retaliatory measures against the South.
Earlier this week, Lee said that South Korea should offer sincere explanations to China about its decision to host THAAD, saying Beijing sees the decision as a violation of trust and faith in its relations with Seoul.
Kim Jung-mi firstname.lastname@example.org
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