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North Korea fires four cruise missiles into the Sea of Japan

North Korea has test-fired four strategic cruise missiles into the sea, state media said Friday, adding that the drill demonstrated the conflict readiness of Pyongyang’s “nuclear combat force.”

It was the latest in a series of provocative weapons tests that have sent tensions soaring on the Korean peninsula — and heightened fears that the North might conduct its first nuclear test since 2017.

The four “Hwasal-2” missiles were fired from the area of Kim Chaek City in North Hamgyong province towards the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, at dawn on Thursday, the Korean Central News Agency stated.

They traveled 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) before “precisely” hitting their target, the report said, without specifying what the targets were.

“The Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea expressed great satisfaction over the results of the launching drill,” KCNA stated.

“The drill clearly demonstrated once again the war posture of the DPRK nuclear combat force bolstering up in every way its deadly nuclear counterattack capability against the hostile forces,” it added, using the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The launches came after the nuclear-armed North fired three banned missiles in the past week, including an intercontinental ballistic missile test Pyongyang said showed its capacity for a “fatal nuclear counterattack on the hostile forces”.

The ICBM launched Saturday landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone and was Pyongyang’s first launch in seven weeks.

The provocative tests were all timed around joint military drills held by South Korea, Japan and the United States in the Sea of Japan on Wednesday.

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That same day, Pyongyang rejected condemnation by the United Nations chief of its recent ballistic missile launches, saying it was “unfair and unbalanced” and ignored the North’s right to self-defence.

Relations between the two Koreas are at one of their lowest points in decades. North Korea declared itself last year an “irreversible” nuclear power and Kim called for an “exponential” increase in weapons production, including tactical nuclear weapons.

The reclusive North Korean state also test-fired dozens of missiles in 2022, setting security postures in East Asia on edge.