North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the sea to the east of the Korean peninsula on Saturday, militaries in the region said, an apparent test just days before the South’s presidential election. South Korea ’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected the launch of one ballistic missile, and the office of Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also said it was a suspected ballistic missile. The launch was the ninth this year. The last was on Feb. 27 when North Korea said it tested systems for a reconnaissance satellite. South Korea election: who’s running and what’s their China policy? The South Korean military said Saturday’s firing came from a location near Sunan, where Pyongyang’s international airport is located. The airport has been the site of previous tests, including the February 27 launch. The launch underscores the challenges facing whoever wins Wednesday’s presidential election in South Korea. South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) condemned Pyongyang’s “unprecedented repeated firing of ballistic missiles”, which goes against peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and the international community, according to a statement from the presidential Blue House. South Korea will “even more closely monitor North Korea’s nuclear and missile-related facilities, such as Yongbyon and Punggye-ri”, and take necessary measures, the NSC said. Japan’s Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said the launch was “not acceptable”. “The significant pace at which North Korea is developing its missile-launching technology is not something our country and the surrounding regions can overlook,” he said. Kishi said the North Korean projectile reached a height of 550km and flew a distance of 300km, similar to South Korean military’s estimated 560km height and 270km range. The US State Department condemned the latest launch as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, which have imposed sanctions on North Korea over its weapons programmes. The launch demonstrates the threat that North Korea’s illicit weapons of mass destruction and missile programmes pose to the its neighbours and the region as a whole, a State Department spokesperson said. South Koreans worry Ukraine crisis will slow North Korean denuclearisation With denuclearisation talks stalled, Pyongyang conducted a record number of missile launches in January. It appears to be preparing to launch a spy satellite in the near future, and has suggested it could resume testing of nuclear weapons or its longest range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the first time since 2017. Analysts say North Korea could use the upcoming presidential transition in South Korea or a big national holiday on April 15 to test fire a major new missile or other weapon. “The timing of North Korea’s missile testing may seem odd to us, given the global focus on Ukraine,” Jean Lee, a fellow at the Washington-based Wilson Centre, said on Twitter. “But it makes perfect sense in North Korea, where scientists are focused on perfect new weapons for Kim to show off at a big military parade in mid-April.” “North Korea may be preparing a ‘satellite launch’ around the Kim Il-sung birth anniversary on April 15 and before South Korea conducts another satellite test of its own,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. The United States has said it is open to talks without preconditions, but Pyongyang says talks are only possible after Washington and allies drop hostile policies. On Friday, the US-based 38 North project, which monitors North Korea, said the country’s main nuclear facility is in full swing, producing fuel for potential nuclear weapons and an expansion of its nuclear production facilities.