North Korea fires ballistic missile over northern Japan

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North Korea has fired a ballistic missile that flew over northern Japan, Japanese and South Korean officials say, prompting the Japanese government to briefly warn residents to seek shelter. It marks one of the most serious provocations in recent years.

The incident began at about 5:27 a.m. local time on Tuesday when a missile was fired near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, the South Korean military said. The missile flew towards northern Japan and passed over the island of Hokkaido a short time later.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile had fallen into the Pacific Ocean about 1,180 kilometers (733 miles) northeast of Cape Erimo on Hokkaido island. There were no reports of damage.

Initial reports indicated that multiple missiles had been fired, but South Korea’s military later said one missile was fired which broke up into three parts. It flew about 2,700 kilometers (1,677 miles) at an apogee of about 550 kilometers (341 miles), making it a missile of intermediate-range.

The unusual missile launch prompted Japan’s J-Alert warning system to issue an emergency warning for a possible North Korean missile attack. It urged residents in northeast Japan to evacuate and seek shelter immediately in solid buildings or underground shelters.

The missile launch was different from previous missile launches this year: North Korea normally fires its missiles into extremely high altitudes to avoid reaching Japan. North Korean missiles have not flown over Japan since 1998, except for a rocket in 2009 which tried to launch a satellite into space.

“It is an unprecedented, serious and grave threat to our nation,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said after Tuesday’s missile launch, as quoted by the Reuters news agency. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe echoed the remarks.

In South Korea, President Moon Jae-in chaired an emergency meeting of the National Security Council and condemned the North’s missile launch. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon called the situation “very grave” and said the launch over Japan marks “a whole new level of grave provocation,” Yonhap reported.

In a show of force against the North, South Korean fighter jets dropped eight bombs at a training site in eastern Gangwon province.

The United Nations Security Council will convene an emergency meeting to discuss Tuesday’s incident, diplomats.

The missile launch came just three days after North Korea test-fired three short-range ballistic missiles, including one which exploded shortly after launch. Observers said Saturday’s launches were likely part of a military drill, not a test of new technology.

Tensions have been rising for months on the Korean Peninsula, but the latest flurry of activity coincides with annual joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean troops. North Korea, which considers the exercises a drill for a military invasion, is known to carry out provocations during the annual event.

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