North Korea fires ballistic missiles after US VP Harris tours DMZ
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North Korea fired two ballistic missiles Thursday just hours after US Vice President Kamala Harris left South Korea, where she had toured the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone which divides the peninsula.
The Thursday launch is Pyongyang's third in five days, continuing the nuclear-armed country's record-breaking blitz of weapons tests this year.
Speaking at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) earlier Thursday, Harris decried North Korea's "brutal dictatorship, rampant human rights violations and an unlawful weapons programme that threatens peace and stability".
Seoul and Washington want "a complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula" -- but in the interim they are "ready to address any contingency", she said.
"It's so close," she said.
On the North Korean side of the border at Panmunjom, guards in hazmat suits could be seen watching as Harris was shown the demarcation line between the two countries -- which remain technically at war.
- Yoon talks -
Harris' trip to the DMZ is also likely to have annoyed Pyongyang, which branded United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the "worst destroyer of international peace" when she visited the border in August.
Harris visited Seoul after a trip to Japan, where she attended the state funeral of assassinated former prime minister Shinzo Abe.
Earlier Thursday, Harris met President Yoon Suk-yeol for talks dominated by security issues, although Seoul also raised its concerns over a new law signed by US President Joe Biden that removes subsidies for electric cars built outside America, impacting Korean automakers such as Hyundai and Kia.
Harris, America's first woman vice president, also met what the White House called "groundbreaking women leaders" of South Korea to discuss gender equality issues, a topic she said she raised with Yoon during their talks.
Yoon, who has pledged to abolish Seoul's Ministry of Gender Equality, has faced domestic criticism for a lack of women in his cabinet.
- Nuclear test? -
South Korean and US officials have warned for months that Kim Jong Un is preparing to conduct another nuclear test.
The isolated regime has tested nuclear weapons six times since 2006, most recently in 2017. Earlier this month it changed its laws, declaring itself an "irreversible" nuclear power.
"North Korea's growing nuclear missile threat raises concerns in Seoul about the reliability of Washington's defence commitments," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
Harris also raised the issue of Seoul working more closely with Japan on security issues during her trip.
Seoul announced Thursday it would hold trilateral anti-submarine drills with Japan and the US, the first such exercises since 2017.
South Korean officials said this weekend they had detected signs Pyongyang could be preparing to fire a submarine-launched ballistic missile.