North Korea test-fires short-range ballistic missiles after South Korea and US stage drill

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Setting a possible single-day record for ballistic launches, North Korea test-fired a salvo of eight short-range missiles toward the sea on Sunday, South Korea’s military said.

The missiles were fired from multiple locations in succession over 35 minutes, marking North Korea’s 18th round of missile tests in 2022 alone – including its first inter-continental ballistic missile demonstrations in nearly five years.

These locations included the Sunan region near North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said but didn’t immediately specify how far the missiles flew.

Japan’s defense minister Nobuo Kishi said the country detected at least six launches between the ranges of 300 and 400km (180 and 240 miles) from North Korea’s inland and western and eastern coastal areas, adding that none of the missiles fell inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

South Korea’s national security adviser Kim Sung-han will reportedly convene a National Security Council meeting to discuss the launches, while Japanese prime minster Fumio Kishida called for maximum efforts to gather information about the launches and to ensure the safety of aircraft and vessels.

However, there were no immediate reports of damages.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said it was aware of North Korea’s multiple ballistic missile launches, adding the event doesn’t pose an “immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or to our allies.”

The launches came a day after the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan concluded a rare, three-day naval drill with South Korea in the Philippine Sea, as the countries move to upgrade their defense exercises in the face of growing North Korean threats.

Experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s continuing, provocative weapons demonstration is aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.

Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang broke down in 2019 over disagreements regarding US-led sanctions against North Korea and the North’s disarmament steps.

South Korean and US officials say there are signs that North Korea is also pressing ahead with preparations at its nuclear testing ground in the northeastern town of Punggye-ri.

The North’s next nuclear test would be its seventh since 2006 and the first since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb to fit on its ICBMs

The United States has warned of fresh sanctions on North Korea if it conducts a new nuclear test, even as Kim continues to punctuate tests with repeated comments that the North would use its nuclear weapons proactively when threatened or provoked.

Kim’s pressure campaign comes as the country deals with mounting Covid-19 cases within his largely unvaccinated autocracy that lacks public health tools.

Additional reporting by agencies.

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