People watch a TV image of North Korea’s missile launch at the railway station in Seoul on Sunday. AP
North Korea launched a ballistic missile into the sea on Sunday, military officials in South Korea and Japan said, in a resumption of weapons tests that came as the United States and its allies are focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that North Korea had fired a suspected ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast from a location near Sunan, where Pyongyang's international airport is located.
The airport has been the site of missile tests, including a pair of short-range ballistic missiles fired on Jan. 16.
The North Korean launch was the eighth of its kind this year and the first since Jan. 30. Some experts have said North Korea is trying to perfect its weapons technology and pressure the United States into offering concessions like sanctions relief amid long-stalled disarmament talks. They say North Korea also might view the U.S. preoccupation with the Ukraine conflict as a chance to accelerate testing activity without any serious response from Washington.
Sunday's missile flew around to a maximum altitude of around 620 km (390 miles), to a range of 300 km (190 miles), JCS said.
Analysts said the flight data didn't closely match earlier tests, and suggested it could be a medium-range ballistic missile fired on a "lofted" trajectory.
"There have been frequent launches since the start of the year, and North Korea is continuing to rapidly develop ballistic missile technology," Japan's Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said in a televised statement. North Korea was threatening the security of Japan, the region and the international community, he said.
South Korean officials said they also detected the launch from the North’s capital area and expressed "deep concerns and grave regret” over it.
During an emergency national security council meeting, top South Korean officials said the timing of the launch, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, "is not desirable at all for peace and stability in the world and on the Korean Peninsula,” the presidential Blue House said.
North Korea’s ballistic missiles are banned under United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and if the launch is confirmed it would represent a new challenge to Biden’s efforts to engage with Pyongyang, which have so far been rebuffed.
The renewed pressure comes as the pandemic further shakes the North’s economy, which was already battered by crippling US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme and decades of mismanagement by its own government.
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The fire broke out early morning, officials said at a press conference, with a preliminary investigation suggesting the blaze started on the building's first floor, where electric bikes had been placed.
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