North Korea has fired at least three ballistic missiles toward the sea off its east coast as tensions are once again rising on the troubled Korean Peninsula and in the Pacific region.
Seoul's military said that North Korea had fired three ballistic missiles on Thursday
Three short-range ballistic missiles were fired at around 18:30 p.m. (0930 GMT) from the Sunan area of the North's capital, Pyongyang, where an international airport is located and where the North had said it fired its largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-17, on March 24, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
The missiles flew approximately 360 kilometers (224 miles), reaching an altitude of 90 km and a maximum velocity of Mach 5,
the JCS said.
Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi also confirmed the launch, saying the missiles flew about 350 km, to the maximum altitude of around 100 km, before landing outside Japan's territorial waters.
"A series of missile launches when the invasion of Ukraine is taking place is unacceptable," he told reporters, adding that Tokyo had lodged a protest against North Korea through its embassy in Beijing.
This was North Korea's 16th known weapons test this year and came hours after it reported its first COVID-19 outbreak, declaring a
"gravest national emergency" and ordering a national lockdown.
It was also the first after the inauguration of conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol this week. Yoon, who has signaled a hard line against the North, immediately convened a meeting of its national security council.
In its last weapons test on Saturday, the North used a submarine-launched ballistic missile, which it has been developing in recent years.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently vowed to expedite the country's nuclear deterrence, amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.
US President Joe Biden's administration has failed to restart diplomatic talks with Pyongyang as tensions escalate.
Former US President Donald Trump attempted to court Pyongyang. But even though he met with the North Korean leader three times, he refused to relieve any of the sanctions in return for the several steps taken by Pyongyang toward denuclearization. That hampered further diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington and prompted Kim to announce an end to a moratorium on the country’s missile tests.
North Korea, which has been under rounds of crushing UN sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, has ramped up missile launches this year, conducting 16 weapons tests, including of an intercontinental ballistic missile (IBM) at full range for the first time since 2017.
China and Russia have voiced opposition to further sanctions by the United Nations Security Council against North Korea.
Late last year, the two countries pushed the council to remove certain sanctions on the North in recognition of steps Pyongyang had up to that time taken to denuclearize and to encourage further negotiations.