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North Korea conducts largest missile test, South Korea says

North Korea has launched eight short-range ballistic missiles, likely its largest such test of strategic firepower and marking a ratcheting-up of tensions with Seoul and Tokyo amid increased saber-rattling by the US.

The missiles were fired toward the sea from at least four different locations across North Korea, including the country’s eastern and western coasts, over a period of about 35 minutes on Sunday, according to a statement by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The missiles flew at altitudes as high as 80km and traveled between 110km and 670km.

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At least one of the projectiles flew in a variable trajectory, suggesting that it could be maneuvered to evade defensive weapons, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters on Sunday. Although none of the missiles landed in Japanese waters, Kishi said the test “cannot be tolerated.”

READ MORE: South Korea brands North ‘enemy’ – Yonhap

Japanese, US and South Korean envoys condemned the launches as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Japan and the US responded hours later by conducting a joint missile exercise to show their “rapid response capability,” according to the Japanese Defense Ministry.

Pyongyang’s latest launches marked its 18th missile test this year and came one day after the US and South Korean navies completed a joint drill in international waters off the coast of Okinawa. The exercise included the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan, Seoul’s first drill involving a US aircraft carrier since 2017. Newly elected South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office last month, has agreed with US President Joe Biden to ramp up joint military exercises with Washington to send a strong deterrence message to North Korea.

North Korea has criticized such joint drills as provocative rehearsals for an invasion. The deputy director of the ruling party’s Publicity and Information Department, Kim Yo-jong, warned last year that Pyongyang would have to strengthen its own forces, including its nuclear arsenal, in response to the exercises. North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in March, demonstrating its ability to strike targets throughout the US mainland.

During Biden’s visit to Seoul last month, the US president vowed to send “strategic assets” to the Korean Peninsula if needed to deter a North Korean attack. Another US aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, conducted exercises in the Yellow Sea after North Korea’s ICBM launch in March.

Washington and Seoul have raised concerns that North Korea is planning its first nuclear bomb test since 2017. Biden’s administration has threatened to seek additional international sanctions against North Korea if such a test is conducted, but Russia and China could veto any punitive response by the UN Security Council. The council balked at punishing Pyongyang over an alleged ICBM launch on May 25.

Seven decades on from a bloody war that left nearly 5 million people dead, the two Koreas still haven’t signed a peace treaty. Major combat operations ended in July 1953 with an armistice, meaning the two countries are technically still at war.

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