North Korea fires 3 ballistic missiles in first virus outbreak

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday, in what its neighbor said was the latest in a series of attacks. weapons demonstration This year is hours after it confirmed it first coronavirus case since the beginning of the pandemic.

The launches could underscore North Korea’s determination to continue efforts to expand its nuclear arsenal amid the virus outbreak to win the support of leader Kim Jong Un and continue to pressure its rivals in a long-dormant nuclear diplomacy.

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Thursday’s launch was North Korea’s first since the inauguration of South Korea’s neo-conservative President Yoon Seok-yeol on Tuesday.

North Korea has a history of annoying the new government in Seoul and Washington, apparently to increase its bargaining power in future negotiations. When Yoon meets visiting U.S. President Joe Biden in Seoul next week, the North Korean nuclear threat is likely to be at the top of the agenda.

Both South Korea and Japan condemned the launch in North Korea’s capital region on Thursday afternoon.

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

The South Korean military said it had stepped up preparations and surveillance while maintaining close coordination with the United States. It called on North Korea to immediately stop repeated missile launches.

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

People watch a TV screen showing a news program about North Korea’s missile launch and archival footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Li Jinman/Associated Press)

Earlier on Thursday, North Korean state media confirmed the country’s first COVID-19 infection as Kim Jong Un ordered a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the virus. King also ordered officials to beef up the country’s defense posture to avoid any security vacuum.

In recent months, North Korea has tested a barrage of missiles in what experts say is an attempt to modernize its weapons and pressure the United States and its allies to accept it as a nuclear state and ease sanctions on the North. Some observers say North Korea is likely to continue building up its arsenal with weapons tests to boost public morale and bolster loyalty to Kim’s leadership despite heightened anti-virus measures.

“North Korea’s latest missile launches appear to have gone beyond what is needed to test and improve military capabilities,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “These launches look like a demonstration after the Kim regime publicly acknowledged the coronavirus outbreak. strength.”

Kim Sung-han, Yoon’s national security adviser, said in a statement after the meeting that South Korea would work with the international community to seek “practical” and “draconian” measures to counter the growing threat from North Korea.

North Korea’s latest weapons test includes a variety of nuclear missiles that could reach South Korea, Japan or the continental U.S. Its largest missile can reach the entire continental United States.

The UN Security Council routinely imposes punitive sanctions on North Korea after its nuclear and long-range missile tests. But that didn’t happen in March, as veto-holding members were divided over Russia’s war in Ukraine.

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

Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

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