North Korea fires 3 ballistic missiles amid first virus outbreak

South Korea says North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea in the latest in a series of weapons demonstrations this year.

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday, its neighbors said, the latest in a series of weapons demonstrations this year and one that came just hours after confirm your first case of coronavirus. since the beginning of the pandemic.

The releases could underscore North Korea’s determination to press ahead with its efforts to expand its arsenal despite the virus outbreak, to rally support for leader Kim Jong Un and keep the pressure on its rivals amid long-standing nuclear diplomacy. asleep.

Thursday’s launches were the first weapons fired by North Korea since the inauguration of new conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday.

North Korea has a history of stirring up new governments in Seoul and Washington in an apparent attempt to increase their bargaining chips in future negotiations. The North Korean nuclear threat will likely be high on the agenda when Yoon visits US President Joe Biden in Seoul next week.

South Korea, Japan and the United States condemned the testing of the weapons, which were launched from the North’s capital region on Thursday afternoon.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan condemned the launch when he spoke by phone with his South Korean counterpart Kim Sung-han, according to a White House statement. The two also discussed President Joe Biden’s visit to South Korea next week, Biden’s first to an Asian country during his presidency. Biden is also scheduled to visit Japan during the fast travel.

The missiles landed in waters between North Korea’s east coast and outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said. There were no reports of damage to aircraft or vessels.

The South Korean military said it had increased its readiness and vigilance while maintaining close coordination with the United States. He called on the North to immediately halt its repeated missile firing.

South Korea and Japan released similar flight details, saying the weapons traveled about 350-360 kilometers (217-224 miles) at a maximum altitude of 90-100 kilometers (56-62 miles).

On Thursday, North Korean state media confirmed the country’s first COVID-19 infections as Kim ordered nationwide lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus. Kim also ordered officials to strengthen the country’s defense posture to avoid any security vacuum.

In recent months, North Korea has tested the launch of a series of missiles in what experts call an attempt to modernize its weapons and pressure the United States and its allies to accept it as a nuclear state and relax sanctions on the North. . Some observers say that despite heightened anti-virus measures, North Korea would likely continue to build its arsenal with weapons tests to boost public morale and strengthen loyalty to the Kim leadership.

“North Korea’s latest missile fire seems excessive for what would be needed to test and improve military capabilities,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “These releases look like a show of force after the Kim regime publicly admitted to a coronavirus outbreak.”

A statement released after a meeting chaired by Yoon’s national security adviser Kim Sung-han said South Korea would pursue “practical” and “severe” measures in cooperation with the international community to respond to the growing North Korean threat.

North Korean weapons recently tested included a variety of nuclear-capable missiles that could hit South Korea, Japan or the United States. capable of reaching the entirety of the American homeland.

The UN Security Council has typically imposed punitive sanctions on North Korea after carrying out nuclear and long-range missile tests. But that didn’t happen in March because members with veto power are divided over Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Last Saturday, South Korea detected a North Korean ballistic missile launch likely from a submarine, the first such test since last October. There are also signs that the North is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test in nearly five years at a remote testing ground in its northeast.

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Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

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