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South Korean missile explodes in exercise; panic and confusion

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A malfunctioning South Korean ballistic missile crashed to the ground and exploded during a live-fire drill Wednesday with the United States staged in retaliation for Korea’s successful launch the day before. from a projectile that flew over Japan and has the range to reach the US territory of Guam.

The explosion and subsequent fire of the missile caused panic and confusion among the inhabitants of the coastal city of Gangneung, who were already uneasy at the increasing provocative weapons tests by North Korea. Residents’ concern that it could be a North Korean attack was heightened as military and civilian officials gave no explanation for the blast for hours.

North Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said no injuries were reported from the blast caused by a short-range Hyumoo-2 missile, which went off inside an air force base on the outskirts of the city.

A Joint Chiefs of Staff official, speaking on condition of anonymity during a briefing, said the missile’s warhead did not explode during the accident and that the fire was caused by burning rocket propellant. The official said the missile went down shortly after takeoff and no civilian installations were affected.

Kwon Seong-dong, a lawmaker from the ruling party representing Gangneung, wrote on Facebook that a “weapons system operated with our taxpayer money ended up endangering our own people” and demanded a full investigation by the military into the failure. of the missile. He also criticized the military for failing to issue an advisory about the failure while maintaining a media embargo on the joint exercises.

“It was an irresponsible response,” Kwon wrote. “They haven’t even issued an official statement yet.”

The South Korean military recognized the failure of the missile hours after internet users warned about the explosion and posted videos on social networks with images of orange fireballs rising in an area near the air force base. . They said they are investigating the causes of the missile’s “abnormal flight.”

Officials from the Gangneung Fire Department and the city council said emergency personnel were dispatched to the air force base and a nearby army base due to reports of a possible explosion, but military authorities returned the contingents.

The US and South Korean militaries are holding joint exercises to demonstrate their ability to deter a North Korean attack on its southern neighbor. During the drills on Tuesday, they carried out bombing raids with F-15 fighter jets using precision munitions and launched two missiles each that are part of the Army’s Tactical Missile System.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan was scheduled to return to waters east of South Korea on Wednesday to demonstrate the allies’ “steadfast will” to counter North Korea’s continued provocations and threats. The aircraft carrier was part of the drills last week with South Korea and Japan.

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