North Korea Fires Missile Barrage Ahead of South Korea Election

(Bloomberg) -- North Korea fired multiple missiles from its eastern coast Tuesday, in a show of military might ahead of parliamentary elections in South Korea.

The projectiles were fired Tuesday morning from sites near Munchon and neighboring Wonsan on the east coast, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense said in a statement. North Korea launched short-range cruise missiles from Munchon that flew more than 150 kilometers (90 miles), the ministry said, while fighter jets conducted exercises with air-to-surface rockets.

The exercise comes on the eve parliamentary elections in South Korea, a vote that will shape the remaining tenure of President Moon Jae-in. The South Korean leader, who was elected in 2017 on a pledge to improve ties with North Korea, has had his efforts frustrated by renewed tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

Wednesday is also North Korea’s Day of the Sun, a holiday marking the birthday of state founder Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong Un. The younger Kim test-fired an intermediate-range missile to mark the day in 2017, but the rocket exploded soon after takeoff.

North Korea often times its military provocations to coincide with major political events, trying to exert its influence beyond its borders. Elections in South Korea have been no exception, where there has been a divide between conservatives pushing a tough line toward Pyongyang and progressives seeing engagement with their neighbor to the north as a way to reduce tensions.

In the weeks before the last round of South Korean parliamentary elections in 2016, North Korea successfully test fired three ballistic missiles, according to data from Japan’s Defense Ministry. About a week before 2012 presidential elections where conservative Park Geun-hye was the front-runner, North Korea launched a long-range rocket that moved it closer to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Kim entered 2020 by saying he was no longer bound by his pledge to halt nuclear and major missile tests put in place when he engaged in unprecedented nuclear diplomacy with U.S. President Donald Trump. But Kim began testing shorter-range missiles last year when the talks sputtered over relief from sanctions meant to punish Pyongyang for its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and he threatened a new path for his weapons program this year.

Kim recently inspected an air base in the country’s west, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Sunday. North Korea test-launched a record nine short-range ballistic missiles in March, in a sign of more potential provocations in the days ahead.

The latest launches were believed to have been part of defense drills being conducted by North Korea, the ministry said. The Edaily news site separately reported that the live-fire exercises started at 7 a.m. and lasted for more than 40 minutes.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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