North Korea fired eight ballistic missiles into waters off its east coast on Sunday, the day after three days of joint military exercises by the US and South Korean militaries.
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“Our military detected the launch of eight short-range ballistic missiles from Pyongyang’s Sunan sector towards the East Sea,” the South Korean General Staff said, referring to the South Korean Sea, Japan.
These launches took place in a 30-minute time frame. The crew said that the missiles traveled between 110 and 670 kilometers at different altitudes, and the highest altitude reached 90 kilometers.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kiichi responded that this multiple launch was “extraordinary” and “completely unacceptable”.
North Korea is under severe UN sanctions over its missile and nuclear programmes.
These new firings come after three days of large-scale exercises conducted by the US and South Korean militaries, with the participation of the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a capacity of 100,000 tons.
These were the two countries’ first joint exercises since the inauguration in early May of new South Korean President Yoon Sok-yeol, who promised a tougher policy toward Pyongyang, and the first aircraft-related exercises since November 2017.
North Korea has long protested such exercises as a rehearsal for an invasion.
“The exercise reinforced the two countries’ resolve to respond firmly to any North Korean provocation, while demonstrating the United States’ commitment to providing broad-based deterrence,” the South Korean military said in a statement.
Analysts said Sunday’s missile launch, which adds to the 20 or so weapons tests Pyongyang has conducted since the beginning of the year, sends a clear message to Seoul and Washington.
“This shows North Korea’s intent to neutralize the South Korean and US missile defense system with multiple simultaneous attacks” in the event of war, said Cheong Seong Jang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute.
Last month, during a summit in Seoul with Mr. Yoon, US President Joe Biden asserted that Washington would deploy “strategic means” if necessary to discourage North Korea from attacking its neighbor.
A few hours after Mr. Biden left the region, Kim Jong-un’s regime conducted a test-launch of three missiles, including the Hwasong-17, which was presented as the most powerful ICBM.
Seoul and Washington have been warning for weeks that Pyongyang may soon conduct a seventh nuclear test, the first since 2017.
New satellite images show that North Korea, hit by a powerful Covid-19 pandemic wave, has resumed construction of a long-dormant nuclear reactor.
According to the South Korean presidency, Pyongyang has conducted tests of an explosive device in preparation for this test.
Kim Jong Un halted nuclear and long-range missile tests when he tried to hold talks with then-US President Donald Trump, but the talks collapsed in 2019.
North Korea partially violated this self-imposed freeze by launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at the end of March.
Analysts believe that Kim Jong Un may be speeding up his plans for nuclear tests to divert attention from the North Korean population affected by the coronavirus.
On Saturday, according to official figures, the country reached the limits of 4 million cases for a population of 25 million people.
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