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Japan: N. Korea fires missile

The Japanese satellite launch angered North Korea who warned of further missile tests in retaliation.
The Japanese satellite launch angered North Korea who warned of further missile tests in retaliation.

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TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- North Korea fired a surface-to-ship missile on Tuesday -- the third such launch since February, Japanese foreign ministry officials said.

The missile test occurred just days after Japan sent into orbit two spy satellites to help keep watch over North Korea's missile and suspected nuclear weapons program.

News of the launch comes amid more jousting from Pyongyang and Washington, with the communist North accusing the U.S. of conducting more than 200 spy flights in North Korean airspace last month.

North Korea -- embroiled in a five-month nuclear standoff with the United States -- has said the flights are a prelude to a U.S. attack.

Tuesday's missile was fired 10:15 a.m. Japanese time (0115 GMT), Japanese officials said.

The missile was launched from North Korea's northwestern coast and was a short-range weapon, similar to two missiles fired in February and March.

U.S. defense officials have confirmed the test, Reuters news agency reported.

No other details were immediately made available but North Korea's recent launches have apparently been part of regular military exercises.

North Korea's February 24 firing broke a self-imposed testing moratorium that followed in the wake of a 1998 launch of a larger Taepodong ballistic missile that flew over Japan's main island.

The 1998 test shocked North Korea's neighbors and gave them a startling demonstration of the North's military reach.

North Korea says the U.S. is making preparations for an attack after the war in Iraq.
North Korea says the U.S. is making preparations for an attack after the war in Iraq.

The test also jolted Japan into action, kick-starting a Japanese space surveillance project which led to the launch last week of two spy satellites. (Launch angers N. Korea)

North Korea announced late last year that its moratorium on missile testing was no longer in effect.

The decision was one of several announced by the North since last October when, U.S. officials say, the North admitted it was secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

North Korea has denied ever making any such statement or admission and says it has no plans to develop nuclear weapons.

Nonetheless since October the North has kicked out U.N. nuclear inspectors; pulled out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; continued to warn it might drop out of an armistice that stopped the 1953 Korean War; and resumed missile test firings.

In recent weeks, North Korea and the U.S. have both escalated their military movements on the Korean Peninsula.

The U.S. has beefed up its bomber presence in the region and has taken part in annual joint war games with South Korea.

North Korea on Tuesday said the U.S. had conducted more than 220 spy flights over its territory in March, up by around 40 from February.

"This shows that the U.S. imperialists are trying to turn its spearhead of aggression to our republic after war in Iraq," state-run Radio Pyongyang said, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

North Korea has regularly accused U.S. spy planes of entering its airspace and says the surveillance flights, war games and an increased U.S. military presence were all a prelude to an attack against the North.

Last month, in the most direct U.S.-North Korean military contact since the standoff began, four North Korean fighter jets intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance plane in a threatening manner, U.S. officials said.

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