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North Korea launches three more missiles, Seoul says

South Koreans near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul rally against the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, on July 11, 2016.
(Lee Jin-man / Associated Press)

North Korea launched three ballistic missiles off its east coast early Tuesday in what could be a show of force intended to register displeasure with plans to deploy a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea.

The three missiles flew between 310 and 372 miles, demonstrating a range capable of striking anywhere in South Korea, according to a statement from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Our military is prepared and closely watching the situation,” the statement said.

Earlier this month, the day after the deployment of the U.S. anti-missile system was announced, North Korea attempted to launch a ballistic missile from a submarine. The launch failed, the South Korean military said.

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Seoul and Washington formally announced plans to deploy the system — known as Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD — in South Korea on July 8. It is meant to shoot down missiles before they strike.

The announcement followed a series of recent tests in which North Korea demonstrated technical advancement in its medium-range missiles.

In April, the South Korean government said it believed North Korea had developed the technology to mount a miniaturized nuclear warhead onto a medium-range missile.

North Korea has voiced harsh opposition to the deployment of THAAD in South Korea, accusing the U.S. of attempting to build “military supremacy” and saying that “the aim of the deployment is by no means for the ‘defense’ of South Korea.”

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North Korea’s state media in recent days has run several articles on South Koreans protesting against the deployment, particularly in Seongju, the rural town where the system is to be set up.

Locals in Seongju, many of them melon farmers, have held intense protests, expressing concern over the electromagnetic waves emitted by the system’s radar and anger that their town was chosen without their consultation. Last week, South Korea’s prime minister and defense minister were pelted with eggs and water bottles when they went to Seongju to meet with residents.

Poll data released last week showed around half of South Koreans in favor of the deployment, with 32% opposed. The portion of those opposed rose to 39% when respondents were asked if they would want the system in their neighborhoods.

Experts are now analyzing whether North Korea may be conducting another nuclear test, which would be the fifth in its history. Satellite imagery released last week by the North Korean affairs website 38 North indicated a high level of activity around the site where North Korea conducted nuclear tests early this year and in 2013.

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The images don’t necessarily indicate preparations for another test and could reflect work intended to keep the site ready to conduct a test if instructed to do so by North Korea’s leadership, 38 North said.

On Monday, a spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, its body for relations with the North, told reporters that North Korea “seems to be fully prepared to carry out a nuclear test at any time,” the South’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Borowiec is a special correspondent.

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