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North Korea fired three ballistic missiles towards its eastern waters on Thursday, South Korean defense officials said.
The reported provocation comes as President Biden prepares to travel to South Korea and Japan later next week, where he will ‘discuss opportunities to deepen our vital security relationships,’ the White House said. .
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a brief statement that the missiles flew toward North Korea’s eastern waters. He gave no further details. The Japanese Ministry of Defense also confirmed the launch of a missile.
Thursday’s launch was North Korea’s 16th round of testing this year. They included the North’s first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, and there are also signs that the North is preparing to carry out its first nuclear test in five years at a remote proving ground in its north- is, according to the Associated Press.
North Korea has tested a series of missiles this year in an apparent attempt to pressure rivals amid stalled nuclear diplomacy.
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Earlier on Thursday, North Korean state media confirmed the country’s first COVID-19 infections as leader Kim Jong Un ordered nationwide shutdowns to slow the spread of the virus. Kim also ordered officials to strengthen the country’s defense posture to avoid a security vacuum.
But some experts say that despite lofty anti-virus measures, North Korea is likely to continue testing weapons in an attempt to bolster national unity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.