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(LEAD) Ruling party officially backs THAAD deployment plan

All Headlines 14:18 August 30, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with new info in paras 7-11)

SEOUL, Aug. 30 (Yonhap) -- The ruling Saenuri Party on Tuesday adopted an official stance to support the planned deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system to South Korea, saying it is the "least" Seoul can do to counter Pyongyang's evolving nuclear and missile threats.

The party lawmakers' unanimous backing for the plan to station a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery on the peninsula by end-2017 came as opposition politicians are largely opposed to the plan.

"Adopting the official stance despite political differences over the THAAD deployment is the Saenuri Party displaying its strong will to stand at the vanguard of the efforts to overcome security challenges facing the country," Saenuri floor leader Chung Jin-suk said during a general meeting of party lawmakers.

The Saenuri leadership, consisting mostly of members loyal to President Park Geun-hye, has supported the deployment plan. But the party's adoption of the official stance would boost Park's push for the THAAD deployment.

In recent weeks, the commander-in-chief has repeatedly made emphatic calls for the public and political circles to back the THAAD deployment, saying that it is an "inevitable, self-defense" measure to defend the nation and its people.

Over the THAAD issue, the Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK) has so far maintained an indecisive stance as Kim Chong-in, its former interim leader, has opposed moves by party lawmakers to resist the deployment plan.

The MPK initially planned to decide on whether it will adopt an official position against THAAD during a gathering of party lawmakers, slated for Friday.

But it decided to postpone its decision on THAAD as recent opinion polls showed a majority of citizens back the deployment.

In a survey conducted earlier this month by local pollster Gallup Korea, 56 percent of those questioned showed their support for THAAD. Only 31 percent disapproved of THAAD in the survey.

New MPK leader Choo Mi-ae had clearly opposed the stationing of the anti-missile shield in Korea. But following her election as party chief on Saturday, she struck a cautious note, saying she would seek party consensus over the issue.

Observers had anticipated that Choo might push for the adoption of a unified party stance against THAAD as she favors more progressive party tenets and is seen as wanting to draw the line in relation to the Saenuri Party.

The minor opposition People's Party, meanwhile, has been against the THAAD deployment from the outset, criticizing the MPK for its ambiguous stance over the security issue.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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