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North Korea fires missile over Japan

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 29/08/2017
The missile fell into waters 1,180 km east of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, says NHK [File: Reuters] © Provided by Al Jazeera The missile fell into waters 1,180 km east of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, says NHK [File: Reuters]

North Korea fired a ballistic missile from near its capital Pyongyang that flew over Japan before plunging into the northern Pacific Ocean, officials said on Tuesday, an aggressive test-flight over the territory of a close US ally that sends a clear message of defiance as Washington and Seoul conduct war games nearby.

The launch appears to be the first to cross over Japan since 2009.

Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile travelled around 2,700km and reached a maximum height of 550km as it flew over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido and landed in the sea.

South Korea's military said the projectile was launched from the Sunan region near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, just before 6am on Tuesday (21:00 GMT on Monday).

Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported that the missile flew over the northernmost main island of Hokkaido and broke into three pieces and fell into the waters 1,180km east of Cape Erimo.

The Japanese government's J-Alert warning system advised people in northern Japan to take precautions, but NHK said there was no sign of damage.

Japan's military did not attempt to shoot down the missile, which passed over Japanese territory around 6:06am (2106 GMT).

There was no immediate comment from North Korea.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday that North Korea's latest missile launch was a threat that Tokyo would respond to firmly.

"This ballistic missile launch appeared to fly over our territory. It is an unprecedented, serious and grave threat to our nation," the top government spokesman told reporters.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday said North Korea's launch of a missile over its territory was an "unprecedented, serious and grave threat".

"Their outrageous act of firing a missile over our country is an unprecedented, serious and grave threat and greatly damages the regional peace and security," he told reporters.

He said he will call for an urgent meeting in the UN to discuss further action, strongly demanding stepped up pressures against North Korea.

A former South Korean military official who is now an analyst at Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies told The Associated Press that the early flight data suggests the missile was likely a Hwasong-12, a new intermediate range missile that the North has recently threatened to fire toward Guam.

OPINION: Should you be worried about North Korea?

North Korea typically reacts with anger to US-South Korean military drills, which are happening now, often staging weapons tests and releasing threats to Seoul and Washington in its state-controlled media.

But animosity is higher than usual following threats by Trump to unleash "fire and fury" on the North, and Pyongyang's stated plan to consider firing some of its missiles toward Guam.

Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay, reporting from Seoul, said that - although there have been several recent missile launches by North Korea and there are often launches this time of year due to military exercises between the US and its allies in the region - a missile passing over the Japanese mainland will be seen as a bigger provocation.

"So this will certainly be viewed by Japan, the United States and South Korea as an uptick in the seriousness of the missile launches coming from North Korea," he said.

Michael Penn, president of the Shingetsu news agency in Tokyo, told Al Jazeera that North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un is continuing to test the boundaries as he has done since coming to power.

"What is different now, and what makes the situation potentially a lot more dangerous, is that people no longer know what the United States' policy is going to be. They no longer know how President Trump is going to react," said Penn.

"This is really the first major test since the 'fire and fury' speech which Donald trump gave. So the big 'X factor' - the thing of most concern - is what is the Trump administration going to do because its policies seem to have become rather unstable as compared to the past."

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