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North Korea fires submarine-launched missile

North Korea has fired a missile from a submarine in what Pyongyang called a "great success." The launch came ahead of a key meeting of North Korea's ruling party.

Seoul said the firing of the projectile from underwater occurred off the northeast coast of North Korea at about 6:30 p.m. local time (0930 UTC) on Saturday.

The South Korean Defense Ministry was unable to immediately confirm where the missile landed after the launch but said it was fired toward the sea.

"We are keeping close tabs on the North Korean military and maintaining a full defense posture," a ministry spokesman said.

North Korea confirmed on Sunday that it had conducted a submarine-launched ballistic missile test, describing it as a "great success."

"It fully confirmed and reinforced the reliability of the Korean-style underwater launching system and perfectly met all technical requirements for carrying out ... underwater attack operation," North Korean news agency KCNA said, adding that the test gave the country "one more means for powerful nuclear attack."

Retaliatory missile tests

The North has recently been firing a number of missiles and artillery shells into the sea in what appears to be a protest against ongoing annual military drills between the United States and South Korea. Pyongyang is also rankled by international sanctions

that have been toughened

following a recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

Security experts have warned that if North Korea does acquire the ability to launch missiles from submarines, it would mean a considerable military advantage for the recalcitrant nation, as it is more difficult to detect missiles before they are fired from submerged vessels than ones fired from land.

Nordkorea Kim Jong Un Raketentest

Kim Jong Un watching what is thought to be another underwater launch in May 2015

Although some experts say Pyongyang's claims of huge advances in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs are exaggerated, most acknowledge that the country has made significant progress in this area.

Rare meeting

North Korea is to hold the 7th Congress of the Workers' Party on May 7, the first time such a meeting of the ruling party has been held since 1980. It is likely that the congress will see announcements of policies in a number of fields, including economics, politics, defense and relations with South Korea.

The recent

nuclear test on January 6,

which was condemned by the United States and regional neighbors, was seen by many observers as an attempt to boost the domestic legitimacy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ahead of the meeting.

Several analysts have suggested that the regime might even carry out

what would be a fifth nuclear test

before the congress opens to give a display of military strength to the world.

tj/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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