North Korea tests new weapon 'to improve tactical nukes'

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North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un claps as he watches the test-fire of a new type of nuclear weapon at an undisclosed location on 17 AprilImage source, EPA/KCNA

North Korea says it has successfully tested a new weapon, which it says will significantly enhance its tactical nuclear capabilities.

Photos show the country's leader Kim Jong-un smiling and clapping as he watches the new missile's launch.

Experts believe this is a sign that North Korea is planning to test a compact nuclear weapon soon - in other words, a tactical nuclear weapon.

North Korea stopped nuclear testing in 2017.

The following year, it blew up tunnels at its Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, in a move that was seen to be part of a diplomatic rapprochement with South Korea and the US.

But recent satellite images suggest work is under way to restore the tunnels.

The "new-type tactical guided weapon... is of great significance in drastically improving the firepower of the frontline long-range artillery units and enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes," the North's official KCNA news agency reported.

It added that Mr Kim had given "important instructions on further building up the defence capabilities and nuclear combat forces of the country".

South Korea's military confirmed that two missiles - likely to be short-range - were launched from the North into the sea on Saturday night.

The US said it was monitoring the situation.

Experts say the timing of the test could be seen as a protest against joint US and South Korean military drills, which are due to take place for nine days from Monday.

North Korea has often denounced such drills as a rehearsal for war.

The timing also coincides with events celebrating the anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founder, Kim Il-sung, last Friday.

Just three weeks before the celebrations, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time since 2017.

North Korea is banned from testing them and has been heavily sanctioned for doing so before.

It has been conducting other regular missile tests as part of its weapons development programme.

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Watch North Korean state TV give Hollywood treatment to Kim Jong-un's ballistic missile launch in March