South Korean residents, who have fought against the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, consoled each other on Wednesday night as their protest rally marked the first anniversary.
Hundreds of people, mostly those living in Seongju county, North Gyeongsang province, gathered at an open field right beside the county office building to celebrate the first anniversary of their anti-THAAD demonstration.
Five days after Seoul and Washington announced the joint decision on July 8 last year to deploy one THAAD battery in South Korea, the Seongju county in the country's southeastern region was designated as a site for the U.S. missile shield installation.
Since then, Seongju residents have never missed one day of the anti-THAAD rally. Business as usual, people gathered at the place, but this time around, the atmosphere was different as Wednesday marked the first anniversary of their fight against the U.S. weapons system.
A series of modern classic and popular music performances were played at the open field, which brought together the residents as well as people who live outside the county but support the anti-THAAD demonstration.
Seemingly having a temporary rest, the protesters enjoyed the music performances, which were arranged to console anti-THAAD warriors who have withstood the severe ordeal over the past year.
Each time a music performance ended, people clapped and applauded the musicians, seeking to comfort and cheer up each other.
"Despite the sweltering heat having the day's temperature high of 37-38 degrees Celsius, many people came here again," said a moderator of the anti-THAAD music concert wishing for peace in Seongju and the Korean Peninsula.
"One year has passed since we began (the anti-THAAD rally). One day (of the rally) has never been missed, rain or shine, and in the sweltering heat or the biting cold," said the moderator, behind whom a placard was hung with a slogan that reads "Seongju will never give up peace."
Seongju residents seemed more hopeful than before as liberal President Moon Jae-in was elected in May to replace his conservative predecessor who made the THAAD deployment decision but was ousted over a corruption scandal.
"I entertain expectations for President Moon Jae-in as he promised to conduct an environmental impact assessment (on the THAAD site). It will take about a year, during which no more THAAD elements will be deployed in Seongju," said Bang Min-kyu, a Seongju resident who runs a bakery in the county.
Bang said the THAAD issue was not on the dialogue agenda during the summit meeting between President Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump that was held in Washington in late June.
Some of local experts saw the exclusion of the THAAD issue from the summit meeting as South Korea's willingness to buy time to find a solution satisfying its domestic audience as well as neighboring countries.
China and Russia have strongly opposed the THAAD battery in South Korea as it damages security interests of the two countries and breaks a strategic balance in the region.
The AN/TPY-2 radar of the U.S. missile shield can peer deep into Chinese and Russian territories. A THAAD battery is composed of the radar, six mobile launchers, 48 interceptors and the fire and control unit.
A sense of uneasiness remained among residents as part of the THAAD elements were still installed at a golf course in Soseong-ri village, the northernmost part of the Seongju county.
On April 26, about two weeks before the presidential by-election, two THAAD mobile launchers and other elements were transported in the middle of night to the golf course, violently suppressing the anti-THAAD residents, mostly those in their 80s, as well as peace activists.
"Grandmas in Soseong-ri are still fighting against THAAD on the streets despite the scorching heat," said Han Ho-ok, a Seongju resident who was born in the county and has never left his hometown for the past 46 years.
"I have expectations for the current government. But, our fight against THAAD has yet to come to an end because it is not pulled out (of Seongju)," said the 46-year-old who pledged his continued participation in the anti-THAAD rally until the missile interception system is returned to the United States.