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North Korea fires missiles ahead of founder's birthday

North Korea conducted a series of projectile launches on Tuesday, firing both surface-to-ship and air-to-ground missiles one day before of a major national public holiday. Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE
North Korea conducted a series of projectile launches on Tuesday, firing both surface-to-ship and air-to-ground missiles one day before of a major national public holiday. Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE

SEOUL, April 14 (UPI) -- North Korea launched a series of projectiles from its east coast and fired air-to-ground missiles from fighter jets into the sea on Tuesday, South Korea's military announced.

The ground-launched projectiles are assumed to be surface-to-ship cruise missiles, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in statement, and were fired from areas near the town of Munhon around 7 a.m. They flew roughly 93 miles before splashing into the sea between North Korea and Japan.

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The North also flew fighter jets above the eastern coastal city of Wonsan and fired multiple missiles into the sea from its variants of the Russian Sukhoi jet, the JCS added, according to a report from news agency Yonhap.

South Korea's Ministry of National Defense said in a statement that it was "maintaining a firm readiness" while monitoring North Korea's military activities and added that intelligence officials from South Korea and the United States were analyzing the situation.

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The missile firings came a day before the birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, current leader Kim Jong Un's grandfather. The anniversary, known as the "Day of the Sun," is considered one of the most important public holidays in the communist state.

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The military activity also took place a day before South Koreans head to the polls in national legislative elections.

Tuesday's firings marked the fifth weapons test of the year for North Korea, following a busy March that included the test of what Pyongyang called a "super-large rocket launcher" on March 29 and the demonstration firing of a "tactical guided weapon" a week earlier.

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It is not clear whether Kim Jong Un was present at the missile launches.

North Korea's legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly, met on Sunday in Pyongyang, a meeting that Kim Jong Un did not attend.

Kim did lead a meeting of the ruling party's political bureau on Saturday, calling for tougher responses to COVID-19, state media reported. North Korea has claimed to have no cases of the infectious disease, an assertion many outside observers cast doubt upon.

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The latest military exercises came as nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea remain at a stalemate since a summit last year between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam, failed to produce an agreement.

After a 17-month hiatus, Pyongyang conducted more than a dozen weapons tests throughout the latter half of 2019, and in December carried out what it called "crucial" tests at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station, which analysts suggested could be a long-range rocket engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

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At the end of 2019, Kim announced that there was no longer any reason for North Korea to be "unilaterally bound" to its commitment to halt nuclear and inter-continental ballistic missile tests and warned of a "new strategic weapon" coming soon.

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