People watch TV reporting North Korea's missile test Tuesday at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea says North Korea has fired seven suspected artillery shells into the seas following its recent series of Scud missile launches. (Ahn Young-joon / AP)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — South Korea said North Korea fired seven suspected artillery shells into the ocean on Tuesday, in what Seoul called a provocation apparently directed against its ongoing military drills with the United States.
North Korea also has launched six Scud missiles into the sea since the annual exercises began about a week ago. It earlier fired artillery shells days before the drills started. It says the exercises are a rehearsal for invasion, but Washington and Seoul say they are defensive in nature.
Despite the firings and launches, outside analysts say the North is taking a softer stance toward the drills this year than last year because it wants better ties with the outside world to revive its struggling economy.
Three of the projectiles fired Tuesday had a range of 50 kilometers (30 miles) and four could travel about 155 kilometers (95 miles), according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry. Spokesman Kim Min-seok said the various launches were apparently an “armed protest” by North Korea against the drills.
The Korean Peninsula remains officially at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. Tension spiked sharply a year ago as North Korea responded furiously to last year’s drills and to international condemnation of its third nuclear test in February 2013.