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North Korea fires four missiles into sea

A man watches a television news showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch at Incheon airport, west of Seoul. Photo: AFP

North Korea fired four projectiles on Monday morning, with three landing in waters as close as 300 kilometers to the northwestern coast of Japan, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported.

The projectiles were launched at 7:36 am local time from the Tongchang-ri region near North Korea's border with China, where the authoritarian country fired a long-range rocket to put an object into orbit last year, the South Korean military said.

South Korea's defense ministry said that the types of the missiles had not been identified yet, but Yonhap reported that the likelihood that at least one of them was an intercontinental ballistic missile could not be ruled out, citing an unnamed source from the ministry.

Analysts say that the missile launches could be seen as North Korea's retaliatory measure against the ongoing joint military drills conducted by South Korea and the United States codenamed "Foal Eagle", which Pyongyang views as preparations for an aggression.

Speaking to the Japanese Parliament on Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the missile launches are clearly in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, calling it "an extremely dangerous action".

On Monday, South Korean acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn also lodged a strong protest against North Korea's provocative move, condemning it as "a direct challenge to the international community and a grave violation".

At a regular press conference on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang voiced opposition to the missile launch by North Korea, saying that it goes against UN resolutions that ban any launch using ballistic missile technology.

"China has also noted that the United States and South Korea are holding large-scale military drills targeting North Korea. Under the current circumstances, all parties involved should exercise restraint, and avoid actions that would provoke each other and escalate regional tensions," Geng said.

Monday's missile launches came after North Korea test fired a medium-long range ballistic missile in February.

In a televised New Year's speech, Kim Jong Un claimed that North Korea is "in the final stages of test launching the intercontinental ballistic missiles".

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