N Korea fires ballistic missiles, Japanese told to take shelter

Suspected ICBM launch triggers an alert for residents in northern Japan to seek shelter, though Tokyo later said the missile did not overfly the archipelago.

North Korea has fired multiple missiles, including a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that forced the Japanese government to issue evacuation alerts in northern and central parts of the country.

The launches on Thursday are the latest in a series of North Korean weapons tests in recent months that have raised tensions in the region. They came a day after Pyongyang fired more than 20 missiles, the most it has fired in a single day ever.

Despite an initial government warning that a missile had overflown Japan, Tokyo later said that was incorrect.

The office of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida issued warnings to residents in the northern and central prefectures of Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata, instructing them to go inside firm buildings or underground. Bullet train services in those regions were temporarily suspended following the missile alert before resuming shortly.

Kishida condemned the North’s launches and said officials were analysing the details of the weapons.

“North Korea’s repeated missile launches are an outrage and absolutely cannot be forgiven,” he added.

Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the government had lost track of the first missile over the Sea of Japan, prompting it to correct its earlier announcement that it had flown over Japan.

“We detected a launch that showed the potential to fly over Japan and therefore triggered the J Alert, but after checking the flight we confirmed that it had not passed over Japan,” Hamada told reporters.

The first missile flew to an altitude of about 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) and a range of 750 kilometres (460 miles), he said. Such a flight pattern is called a “lofted trajectory”, in which a missile is fired high into space to avoid flying over neighbouring countries.

About half an hour after the launch was first reported, Japan’s Coast Guard said the missile had fallen.

The Yonhap news agency reported the first missile went through stage separation, suggesting it may be a long-range weapon such as an ICBM.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the long-range missile was launched from near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

About an hour after the first launch, South Korea’s military and the Japanese coast guard reported a second and third launch from North Korea. South Korea said both of those were short-range missiles fired from Kaechon, north of Pyongyang.

On October 4, North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan for the first time in five years, prompted a warning for residents there to take cover. It was the farthest that Pyongyang had ever fired a missile.

North Korea has conducted a record number of weapons launches this year and the latest come amid ongoing large-scale military exercises between the United States and South Korea, which Pyongyang claims are a “provocation”.

The drills, known as Vigilant Storm, involve some 240 warplanes, including F-35 fighters, staging around-the-clock simulated missions.

“Many of North Korea’s missile flights are direct violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions, but its current provocation cycle is unlikely to peak until Pyongyang conducts its long-anticipated seventh nuclear test,” said Leif-Eric Easely, a professor at the Ehwa University in Seoul.

“The Kim regime may relish international anxiety in the lead up to its next nuclear detonation, believing that greater global attention will hasten begrudging acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear weapons state,” he added.

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