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North And South Korea Exchange Fire After North Shoots At Anti-Kim Balloons

The two nations exchanged machine-gun fire across the border Friday after North Korea shot at balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets. The incident came as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was absent from a key anniversary ceremony.

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Seoul's military said North Korea and South Korea exchanged cross-border machine-gun fire Friday, Yonhap reported.

KIM JAE-HWAN/AFP / Getty Images

The incident began when North Korea launched shots toward anti-Pyongyang propaganda balloons that had been floated across the notoriously tense border by South Korean civic activists and were dropping leaflets.

Some of the shots landed on the southern side of the border, prompting South Korea's military to return fire, South Korea's joint chiefs of staff said.

Dozens of members of the Seoul-based Fighters for a Free North Korea attached around 200,000 leaflets to 10 large, gas-filled balloons and launched them across the heavily fortified border, Agence France-Presse reported.

The action — which coincided with celebrations to mark the 69th anniversary of North Korea's ruling party — was permitted by the Seoul government despite warnings from Pyongyang of "catastrophic" consequences.

#DPRK radio yesterday: We’ve have made it clear...that an anti-Republic leaflet-scattering play becomes a declaration of war against us."

Steve Herman@W7VOAFollow

#DPRK radio yesterday: We’ve have made it clear...that an anti-Republic leaflet-scattering play becomes a declaration of war against us."

11:04 AM - 10 Oct 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

A video of the balloon launch, via Reuters, can be seen here:

View this video on YouTube

Meanwhile, speculation is continuing to mount around the whereabouts of leader Kim Jong Un after he missed a key political anniversary ceremony, the BBC reported.

His name was not on the list of invitees who visited a mausoleum to mark the 69th anniversary of the country's ruling party. It's the first time in three years he has not taken part in the annual tradition.

Kim has not been seen in public since Sept. 3, the longest hiatus since he came to power in the reclusive nation in 2011.

There has been speculation surrounding his grip on authority, with some saying that he has effectively lost control of the country.

However, many others say the absence is down to poor health. State news recently showed Kim walking with a limp, and last month claimed he was in an "uncomfortable physical condition".

South Korean officials said that, despite the claims of a loss of power, Kim remains in charge in North Korea, Yonhap reported.

In a press briefing, Seoul unification ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said: "It seems that Kim Jong Un's rule is in normal operation."

He added: "With regard to his specific health conditions, our government has no information to confirm yet."

Francis Whittaker is a homepage editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Francis Whittaker at francis.whittaker@buzzfeed.com.

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