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North Korea fires ballistic missile amid growing nuclear threat

North Korea fires ballistic missile amid growing nuclear threat
North Korea launched a ballistic missile into its eastern waters on Wednesday, the militaries of South Korea and Japan said. File Photo by EPA-EFE/Yonhap

May 4 (UPI) -- North Korea launched a ballistic missile into the sea off of its east coast Wednesday, the militaries of South Korea and Japan said, as concerns rise that a nuclear provocation is on the way.

The South Korean military said it detected the launch of a ballistic missile from the area of Pyongyang's international airport on Wednesday at around noon. The missile traveled a distance of 292 miles and reached an altitude of 485 miles before splashing down in the sea between Korea and Japan, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message sent to reporters.

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"North Korea's recent launches of ballistic missiles are a serious threat to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula as well as the international community," the message said.

The Japanese defense ministry also announced it had detected the launch, saying that the missile landed outside the waters of Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone.

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The ministry condemned North Korea's recent flurry of weapons tests and said that it was "impermissible" to fire missiles amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The launch comes less than a week ahead of Tuesday's inauguration of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, a conservative who has vowed to take a stronger line against the North than engagement-focused outgoing President Moon Jae-in.

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North Korea has conducted 14 weapons tests since the beginning of the year, including an intercontinental ballistic missile launch in March.

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Pyongyang has also intensified its nuclear saber-rattling in recent weeks, and officials from Seoul and Washington have cautioned that a nuclear weapon test appears to be on the horizon. A test would be North Korea's seventh overall, and its first since 2017.

At a military parade last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the secretive regime will continue to develop its nuclear arsenal at "the fastest possible speed," and over the weekend he warned of using nuclear weapons for preemptive strikes.

Satellite imagery has revealed that North Korea is repairing its Punggye-ri nuclear test facility, which it partially disabled in 2018 during a period of diplomacy with Washington.

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A recent report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies concluded that "preparations are well underway" for a nuclear detonation at Punggye-ri.

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