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North Korea takes major nuclear step as it test-fires two powerful missiles

The launches have sparked worldwide condemnation.

Image: Shutterstock/John Wollwerth

NUCLEAR-ARMED NORTH Korea conducted two back-to-back tests of a powerful new medium-range missile last night, with both achieving a significant increase in flight distance over previous failed launches, South Korea’s Defence Ministry said.

Both tests were believed to be of a much-hyped, intermediate-range Musudan missile capable of reaching US bases as far away as Guam.

International condemnation was swift, with the United States and Japan labelling the launches a clear violation of UN resolutions, and South Korea vowing to push for tighter sanctions on Pyongyang.

Existing UN Security Council measures ban North Korea from any use of ballistic missile technology.

The first test shortly before 6am (9pm last night here) was deemed to have failed after reportedly flying around 150 kilometres over the Sea of Japan.

The South Korean defence ministry said the second Musudan – fired from the same east coast location two hours later – had flown 400 kilometres.

“South Korea and the United States are conducting further analysis,” the ministry said in a statement that stopped short of labelling the second test a success or failure.

Four failed Musudan tests earlier this year all either exploded on the mobile launch pad or shortly after take-off.

A successful test would mark a major step forward for a weapons programme that ultimately aspires to develop a proven nuclear strike capability against the US mainland.

Condemnation

North Korea North Koreans are dwarfed against giant portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il as they walk past an apartment building in Wonsan. Source: Wong Maye-E

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said the latest launches would only increase global efforts to counter North Korea’s illicit weapons programme.

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“W‎e intend to raise our concerns at the UN to bolster international resolve in holding (North Korea) accountable for these provocative actions,” Kirby said in a statement.

Japanese broadcaster NHK quoted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as saying such tests “cannot be tolerated”.

South Korea’s foreign ministry warned that North Korea would face even stronger sanctions and said the tests underlined “the hypocrisy and deceptiveness” of Pyongyang’s recent offers of military talks with Seoul.

© AFP 2016

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