North Korea fires 3 ballistic missiles after reporting its first Covid-19 outbreak

People watch file footage of a North Korean missile test in Seoul on May 7, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - North Korea fired three ballistic missiles towards the sea off its east coast on Thursday (May 12), South Korea said, in the latest such move by the isolated country racing to advance its weapons programmes on the day it first reported a Covid-19 outbreak.

Japan’s coast guard also confirmed the launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea, citing its military. The projectile appeared to fall outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, public broadcaster NHK said.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said three short-range ballistic missiles were fired 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.

The firing was the first after the inauguration of conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol this week, who has signalled a hard line against the North’s weapons development.

Mr Yoon’s office said it immediately convened a meeting of its national security council.

The launch also came ahead of a planned visit to the region next week by US President Joe Biden. 

Mr Biden is due to meet Mr Yoon on a trip that starts on May 20 to discuss on policy towards North Korea.

The launch is the North's 16th known weapons test this year, and came hours after reporting its first coronavirus outbreak, declaring a "gravest national emergency" and ordering a national lockdown.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff reported the latest test but no other details, and Japan's coast guard also said a projectile believed to be a ballistic missile has fallen outside its territorial waters.

In its last weapons test on Saturday, the North used a submarine-launched ballistic missile, which it has been aggressively developing in recent years.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed late last month to expedite the country's buildup of nuclear arsenal, amid stalled denuclearisation talks with the United States.

US and South Korean officials have said Pyongyang's first nuclear test since 2017 could take place as early as this month.

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