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SEOUL, South Korea - North and South Korea traded machine-gun and rifle fire Friday after South Korean activists released anti-Pyongyang propaganda balloons across the border, officials said. North Korea opened fire nearly two hours after the release of the balloons and several machine-gun bullets fell south of the border near a South Korean base and a residential area, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said. There were no reports of damage or injuries. It wasn't immediately clear if North Korea was firing at the balloons.
The exchange of fire comes as speculation grows about the condition of North Korea's authoritarian leader, Kim Jong Un, who has been out of public view for more than a month. He missed a major event on Friday, the founding anniversary of the North's ruling Workers' Party, for the first time in three years. South Korean activists and North Korean defectors frequently release balloons carrying leaflets into the North, but Friday's action was especially provocative because it came on the anniversary. South Korean civic organizations mainly made up of North Korean defectors sent balloons from several areas along the border, including 10 balloons from Paju that contained 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets, 1,000 U.S. $1 bills, 400 propaganda DVDs and 300 propaganda USB thumb drives.
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