North Korea fires 7 missiles off east coast

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SEOUL | North Korea celebrated U.S. Independence Day with a test firing of seven missiles test into the waters off the peninsula’s east coast from morning until evening on Saturday.

The missiles, however, were mid-range, not the long-range intercontinental ballistic test that some had feared — a threat which has led Washington to deploy anti-missile systems to Hawaii.

“It is a provocative act that clearly violates U.N. Security Council resolutions 1695, 1718, and 1874 that bar North Korea’s every activity related to ballistic missiles,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Military officials told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that the missiles fired had a range of 240-310 miles — enough to hit targets all over South Korea — and may have been of the Rodong class — a North Korean upgrade of the Russian Scud. The first test launch took place about 8 a.m. and the last one finished at 5:45 p.m.

Meanwhile, in a statement released by Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Russia and China both urged calm from all parties.

Saturday’s launchings were not the first to coincide with a symbolic American date. In 2006, North Korea test launched several missiles, including a long-range Taepodong 2, on Independence Day. This year, North Korea’s May 25 nuclear test coincided with Memorial Day.

North Korea had previously warned international shipping to avoid its east coast until July 10, indicating the possibility of more test launches to come.

The Saturday barrage followed the test firing by North Korea of four anti-shipping missiles Thursday, after North-South talks broke down with no progress. While the South Korean Navy has said recently that its patrol vessels are superior to those of the North, and outgunned them in naval clashes in 1999 and 2002, anti-shipping missiles are considered a serious threat to South Korean ships.

With North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong-il believed to be seriously sick, there have been signs that he is positioning his third son, Kim Jong-un to take over. Some experts in South Korea see the North’s threatening behavior since April — missile and nuclear tests; bellicose rhetoric; the holding of two American reporters and a South Korean worker at a joint industrial park — in the context of moves to placate the North Korean military in advance of a move to emplace Kim Jong-un as head of state.

Kim Jong-il’s official title is chairman of the country’s National Defense Committee and he has consistently promoted his songeun (military first) policy, but what Jong-un’s relationship with the military leadership is, is unknown.

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