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North Korea fires 2 ballistic missiles amid rising tensions on peninsula

People watch a TV news report at Seoul Station in South Korea on Thursday after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea earlier in the day. It is the sixth launch in 12 days, in an apparent protest of the return of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier to the East Sea. Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE
People watch a TV news report at Seoul Station in South Korea on Thursday after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea earlier in the day. It is the sixth launch in 12 days, in an apparent protest of the return of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier to the East Sea. Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE

Oct. 5 (UPI) -- North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into waters off the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula early Thursday, Japanese officials said, continuing a flurry of provocative actions from the reclusive nation that have raised tensions in the region over the past two weeks.

The first unidentified missile was fired at 6 a.m. and reached an altitude of about 62 miles and flew some 217 miles before landing in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, Tokyo's ministry of defense said in a statement.

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The second launch followed 15 minutes later, but only reached a height of some 30 miles while traveling a distance of 500 miles, leading Tokyo to question whether it "flew on an irregular trajectory."

The ministry said it promptly informed the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of the development and that there have been no initial reports of damage sustained by aircraft or ships due to the launches.

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The launch is the sixth round of weapons tests in two weeks by the secretive nation and the first since it fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, marking its most provocative act since September 2017 when it similarly launched a missile over its neighbor.

Tuesday's launch -- which came amid joint military exercises between the United States, South Korea and Japan near the peninsula -- prompted Washington and Seoul to retaliate with a live-fire exercise, the deployment of nuclear aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to waters near the Korean Peninsula and threats that further destabilizing activities would not be tolerated.

"If they continue down this road, it will only increase the condemnation, increase the isolation, increase the steps that are taken in response to their actions," Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Wednesday during a press briefing on a trip to Chile.

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North Korea this year has conducted a record number of weapons tests with world leaders calling on the regime of leader Kim Jong Un to practice restraint.

"The series of North Korea's actions, including repeated launches of ballistic missiles, threaten the peace and security of our country, the region and the international community," Japan's ministry of defense said Thursday morning. "In addition, such ballistic missile launches are a violation of the relevant [U.N.] Security Council resolutions and strongly condemn them."

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said officials had just concluded an emergency meeting in New York centered on North Korea's repeated weapons tests when they learned of the most recent launch.

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"Our message to North Korea: Stop the reckless, provocative and escalatory behavior and return to dialogue," she tweeted.

During the meeting, Thomas-Greenfield blamed China and Russia for protecting North Korea and from barring the Security Council from speaking in one voice of condemnation against Pyongyang's provocations.

"The DPRK has enjoyed blanket protection from two members of this council," she said from the U.N. floor while referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "These two members have gone out of their way to justify the DPRK's repeated provocations and block every attempt to update the sanctions regime."

She said their reluctance has "enabled" Kim to continue with his bellicose actions.

Anna Evstigneeva, Russia's ambassador to the Security Council, blamed the United States and its allies in South Korea and Japan for North Korea's behavior as they were holding joint military exercises that prompted Tuesday's launch.

"We deeply regret that our Western colleagues have consistently ignored the numerous appeals by Pyongyang to the United States to stop its hostile activity," she told the council, arguing that doing so would open a "window for dialogue."

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She also rebuked the notion of imposing further sanctions against Pyongyang as a "dead-end road."

Following the meeting, Thomas-Greenfield spoke to the media on behalf of the United States and 10 other nations on the Security Council in condemning North Korea's ballistic missile launches as not only a violation of multiple U.N. resolutions but on the grounds that they threaten the entire International community.

"Now again the DPRK is testing the council's resolve and we must act accordingly," she said. "The council will continue to engage over the course of the next week to find a unified voice and way forward."

North Korea's foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday that it condemns the United States and its "satellites" for their attempt to impose further sanctions at the Security Council over its "just counteraction measures" to the joint drills.

It also called the United States' deployment of the USS Ronald Reagan "a serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean Peninsula."

Pyongyang has fired some 40 rounds of weapons tests this year, trumping its previous record of about 35.

Thursday's launch also comes as experts warn that North Korea could conduct a nuclear test at any time.

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Last month, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, released a report stating that Pyongyang's recent nuclear activities are "a cause of serious concern."

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