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(LEAD) Police step up probe into protest against PM

All News 17:19 July 17, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with deployment resistance committee's apology in last 2 paras; RECASTS 2nd para)

SEONGJU, South Korea, July 17 (Yonhap) -- Police stepped up their investigation Sunday into a recent protest involving Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and local residents over the deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system in this southern county.

The probe centers on whether the residents violated laws on the execution of public duties when they threw water bottles and eggs at Hwang to protest the government's decision to place the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in Seongju, 296 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

The prime minister visited the county on Friday in an attempt to ease public fears over the potential harmful effects of the THAAD's radar.

"At the moment, we're analyzing the gathered evidence and looking into whether any illegal acts were involved," an official of the North Gyeongsang Province police department said.

A 25-member team has been set up at the department to handle the case.

Local residents argued the police and security officers should also be investigated for wielding violence during the clash.

Meanwhile, the chief of a committee resisting the THAAD deployment in Seongju apologized to Hwang over the violence, saying the protest got out of hand as uninvited "outsiders" joined the crowd.

"The people of our county will never use force again," Lee Jae-bok told Yonhap News Agency by phone.

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