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28 Aug, 2017 21:30

North Korea fires missile through Japan’s airspace

Pyongyang has launched a missile which, according to the Japanese and South Korean governments, passed through northern Japan’s airspace.

The Japanese government activated its J-Alert warning system after North Korea fired an unidentified missile early Tuesday morning.

The North Korean missile passed over Japanese territory around 6:06am local time. The Japanese military did not attempt to shoot down the missile but warned people to take precautions, Reuters reports citing local media.

The Japanese government announced the missile fell into the Pacific ocean just 14 minutes after the launch, some 1,180 km east of Hokkaido’s Cape Erimo, the Japan Times reports.

Japan's atomic facilities suffered no damage, its Nuclear Regulation Authority said. No damage has been reported to ships or aircraft in the region as the missile broke off into three pieces before falling into the water, a NHK report added.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary described Pyongyang's latest action as a “grave threat.”

“This ballistic missile launch appeared to fly over our territory. It is an unprecedented, serious and grave threat to our nation,” Yoshihide Suga told reporters, according to Reuters.

Suga added that Tokyo will work closely with Washington and Seoul, as well as other regional countries to issue an appropriate response. South Korea's presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, has already convened a National Security Council (NSC) session to discuss the issue.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Robert Manning confirmed that the “missile launch by North Korea flew over Japan” and that the US military was assessing its parameters.

Meanwhile, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Pyongyang fired a “projectile... in the direction of the East Sea (Sea of Japan) at 5:57am,” according to Yonhap. 

“It passed through the sky over Japan,” the JCS said. The rocket flew more than 2,700 kilometers at a maximum altitude of around 550 km, South Korea's military said. 

The South Korean government also "strongly" condemned North Korea's launch, with Seoul calling on Pyongyang to stop further "provocations".

"We strongly condemn the North's yet another provocation," the government said in a statement, according to Yonhap. "The North should come out to the road toward talks as soon as possible in recognition of the fact that denuclearization is the only way to security and economic development instead of seeking reckless provocations."

The latest incident comes just three days after the North fired three short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan. According to the Pentagon, two of the missiles fell into the water, while a third blew up on the launch pad on August 26.

Following Tuesday’s launch and flyby over Japanese territory, the country’s prime minister vowed to do everything in his power to protect his nation.

“We will make utmost efforts to firmly protect the lives of the people,” Shinzo Abe said Tuesday before convening an emergency session on the missile firing, Reuters reports. Abe also said that Japan had "requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council."

The latest North Korean missile launches coincide with the annual US-South Korean Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises which are set to wrap up on August 31.

The Pentagon previously stated that Pyongyang’s behavior is nothing short of a provocation amid the heightened tensions on the peninsula, after two missiles flew some 250 kilometers before falling into the Sea of Japan Saturday.

“You’re still firing missiles, so that’s a threat. We look at that as a threat,” Manning told reporters, according to Yonhap.

Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington reached new heights after US president Donald Trump recently threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if it continues making threats against the United States.

Trump’s strong comments followed the July 28 Hwasong-14 ballistic missile launch by North Korea, after which Pyongyang boasted about having acquired the capability to strike the US mainland.

Pyongyang responded to Washington's rhetoric by saying it was working on a plan to launch a medium-range ballistic missile close to the US territory of Guam, some 3,200km from North Korea. Guam, a tiny US territory located in Micronesia in the western Pacific, is home to two major American military bases housing over 6,000 personnel.

In a related development, South Korea's National Intelligence Service warned Monday that its neighbor might be preparing its sixth nuclear weapon test from a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri. North Korea had conducted five nuclear tests – in 2006, 2009, 2013 and in January and September 2016. During the last test, the North claimed it had successfully detonated a small nuclear warhead.

Amid the ongoing North Korean ballistic tests, the UN Security Council earlier this month unanimously agreed on a new set of restrictive measures against Pyongyang. The new round of sanctions ban North Korean exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood. It also prohibits increasing the current numbers of North Korean laborers working abroad, new joint ventures with Pyongyang and new investments in joint ventures.

READ MORE: Germany supports Russian-Chinese ‘double freeze’ plan for North Korea crisis – FM Gabriel

Both Russia and China supported the last round of UN Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang – although Moscow and Beijing have been offering their own roadmap out of the crisis. The “double freezing” Chinese-Russian initiative, welcomed by Germany but firmly rejected by Washington, proposes that North Korea stops its ballistic missile and nuclear activities while the US and its allies simultaneously halt their war games in the region.