North Korea fired seven ballistic missiles on Saturday, South Korea's defence ministry said, in an act of defiance towards the United States that further stoked regional tensions already high due to its nuclear test in May.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the missiles were "Scud-type", marking an escalation of recent sabre-rattling by the reclusive North, which has fired several non-ballistic, short-range missile since the May 25 nuclear test.
North Korea is barred by United Nations resolutions from firing ballistic missile such as the Scud. A South Korean Defence Ministry official said more launches could come soon.
It was the biggest barrage of ballistic missiles the North has fired since it launched seven missiles in 2006 around the US July 4 Independence Day holiday, including its longest-range Taepodong-2.
The launches came as the United States has cracked down on firms suspected of helping the North in its trade in arms and missiles, which were subject to UN sanctions imposed after the nuclear test and are a vital source of foreign currency for the cash-short state.
An anonymous South Korean official quoted by Yonhap said the launch may have been intended to send a message to Washington, the North's main foe who for years has been trying to press Pyongyang to end its atomic ambitions and rein in missiles that threaten US allies South Korea and Japan.
"Today's missiles seem to have political purposes in that they were fired a day ahead of the US Independence Day," the agency quoted the official as saying.
Russia and China called for calm, saying all sides should refrain from any steps that could further destabilise the region, Moscow's Foreign Ministry said.