WORLD

North Korea Fires Another Missile Over Japan Amid Heightened Regional Tensions

Officials are analysing details of the reported launch.

15/09/2017 8:18 AM AEST | Updated 15/09/2017 4:27 PM AEST

SEOUL, Sept 15 (Reuters) - North Korea fired a missile on Friday that flew over Japan's northern Hokkaido far out into the Pacific Ocean, South Korean and Japanese officials said, further ratcheting up tensions after Pyongyang's recent test of a powerful nuclear bomb.

The missile flew over Japan, splashed down in the Pacific about 2,000 km east of Hokkaido, Japan Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in a hastily organised media conference.

"These repeated provocations on the part of North Korea are unpermissible and we protest in the strongest words," Suga said.

Warning announcements about the missile blared around 7 a.m. (8am AEST Thursday) in the town of Kamaishi in northern Japan, footage from national broadcaster NHK showed.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Friday said North Korea's latest actions were proof sanctions were working.

"Nobody wants to see a war on the Korean Peninsula," he said.

"If Kim Jong Un were to start a war, to attack the United States or one of its allies, he would be signing a suicide note.

"That would be the end for his government and thousands and thousands of people would die."

The PM told Sky News: "This is another dangerous, reckless, criminal act by the North Korean regime threatening the stability of the region and the world and we condemn it utterly."

'Duck And Cover'

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said the launch "put millions of Japanese into duck and cover," although residents in northern Japan appeared calm and went about their business as normal.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted a military official as saying the missile likely reached an altitude of 770km and flew a distance of 3700km -- far enough to reach the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

Japan's public broadcaster NHK reported the missile appeared to have been fired towards the north-east region of the country, over the island of Hokkaido.

Japan's bullet trains were temporarily suspended during the missile launch. The Japanese government was advising people to stay away from anything "that could be missile debris", NHK reported.

The Japan Times reported the nation's military did not attempt to intercept the projectile.

Broadcaster NHK later reported the missile had flown over northern Japan and had landed in the Pacific Ocean, 2000km off the cape of Erimo in Hokkaido.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported President Moon Jae-in immediately convened a National Security Council meeting in the wake of the launch.

Australia, a strong and vocal ally of the United States, quickly condemned the launch.

"This is another dangerous, reckless, criminal act by the North Korean regime, threatening the stability of the region and the world and we condemn it, utterly," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in an interview with Sky News on Friday.

"This is a sign, I believe, of their frustration at the increased sanctions on North Korea, recently imposed by the Security Council. It's a sign that the sanctions are working."

The U.S. military said soon after the launch it had detected a single intermediate range ballistic missile but the missile did not pose a threat to North America or the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, towards which Pyongyang had previously threatened to launch a missile.

U.S. officials said Washington's commitments to the defense of its allies remained "ironclad." Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for "new measures" against North Korea and that "these continued provocations only deepen North Korea's diplomatic and economic isolation."

U.S. President Donald Trump had been briefed on the latest launch, the White House said.

Trump has vowed that North Korea will never be allowed to threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile, but has also asked China to do more to rein in its neighbor. China in turn favors an international response to the problem.

"China and Russia must indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own," Tillerson said.

The United Nations Security Council was to meet on Friday at the request of the United States and Japan, diplomats said, just days after the 15-member council unanimously stepped up sanctions against North Korea over its Sept. 3 nuclear test. Those sanctions imposed a ban on the country's textile exports and capping imports of crude oil.

"The international community needs to come together and send a clear message to North Korea that it is threatening world peace with its actions," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo. Abe described the launch as "unacceptable."

The North's launch comes a day after it threatened to sink Japan and reduce the United States to "ashes and darkness" for supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing new sanctions against it for its Sept. 3 nuclear test.

The North previously launched a ballistic missile from Sunan on Aug. 29 which flew over Japan's Hokkaido island and landed in the Pacific waters.

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on a U.S.-drafted resolution and a new round of sanctions on Monday, banning North Korea's textile exports and capping fuel supplies.

The U.S. dollar fell sharply against the safe-haven yen and Swiss franc in early Asian hours in response to the launch, though losses were quickly pared in very jittery trade.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed that North Korea will never be allowed to threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile, but has also asked China to do more to rein in its neighbor. China in turn favors an international response to the problem.

The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Christine Kim in Seoul and Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

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