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N. Korea fires short-range missiles into Sea of Japan

North Korea fired several short-range missiles early Saturday
off its east coast, officials in South Korea said, indicating a
possible resumption of sabre-rattling by the North after a nearly
month-long hiatus.

The launches took place amid an annual joint military exercise
between South Korea and the United States. While the allies say the
training is defensive in nature, the North has condemned it as a
rehearsal for an invasion.

The South Korean military's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North
fired "several unidentified projectiles" from the vicinity of
Gitdaeryong in its eastern province of Gangwon starting at around
6:49 a.m.

The projectiles flew more than 250 kilometers in a northeastern
direction, it added.

The presidential office said that the projectiles are believed
to be artillery rockets from a multiple-rocket launcher.

The U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii said the North fired three
short-range ballistic missiles between 6:49 a.m. and 7:19 a.m., of
which two flew approximately 250 km in a northeastern direction.

The command added that the missiles did not pose a threat to
North America or Guam, which the North earlier this month threatened
with a missile strike.

In its earlier assessment soon after the test, it said the first
and third missiles failed in flight and the second blew up "almost

U.N. resolutions ban North Korea from any use of ballistic
missile technology, while short-range missile launches are not

According to Yonhap News Agency, the presidential office said in
a statement following a National Security Council meeting that
officials decided to proceed "more thoroughly" with the South
Korea-U.S. combined military drill that kicked off Monday.

In Tokyo, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters he
believes North Korea fired "multiple short-range ballistic missiles
or rockets," indicating the difficulty in determining whether the
missiles were ballistic.

Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the
missiles did not fall within Japan's territory or exclusive economic
zone and would not have a direct impact on Japan's security.

The Japanese government top spokesman also explained that Prime
Minster Shinzo Abe instructed him to maintain high levels of alert to
"protect the lives and property of the Japanese people."

A Japanese government source said the launches appeared to have
been conducted as part of drill by the North Korean military.

In Washington, the White House said U.S. President Donald Trump
was briefed on the launches and that the administration is monitoring
the situation.

Tensions remain high in the region as North Korea said earlier
this month it was considering launching ballistic missiles over the
Japanese archipelago into waters near Guam, a U.S. territory in the
western Pacific.

Prior to Saturday, the most recent missile launch by North Korea
was on July 28, when it test-fired a Hwasong-14 intercontinental
ballistic missile, the second such test that month.

The hiatus prompted U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this
week to hail Pyongyang's restraint with its weapons programs.

The two ICBM launches prompted the U.N. Security Council to
impose fresh sanctions on Pyongyang that aim to slash the country's
$3 billion annual export revenue by a third.

The United States, Japan and South Korea have been on heightened
alert against possible provocative acts by the North as Friday marked
the anniversary of its "Songun" (military-first) policy.

Last year, Pyongyang fired a submarine-launched ballistic
missile on Aug. 24, a day before the anniversary, and went on to
carry out its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9, the country's founding
day. (Aug. 26)

People join an emergency drill to prepare for a North Korean ballistic missile launch in the central Japan city of Tsu on Aug. 26, 2017. The drill was conducted at an elementary school and a nursing home in the city.