TOKYO/SEOUL, Nov 3 (Reuters) – North Korea fired several ballistic missiles on Thursday, including one that triggered an alert for residents in parts of central and northern Japan to take shelter, the latest in a record year of missile tests by the nuclear power plant – armed north.
Despite an initial government warning that a missile had flown over Japan, Tokyo later said it was wrong.
The launches came a day after North Korea fired at least 23 missiles, the most in a single day, including one that landed off the coast of South Korea for the first time.
Residents of Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures in northern Japan were warned Thursday to seek shelter indoors, according to the J-Alert Emergency Broadcasting System.
Japanese Defense 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 kilometers and a range of 750 kilometers, he said. Such a flight pattern is called a “lofted trajectory”, where a missile is launched high into space to avoid flying over neighboring countries.
In brief comments to reporters a few minutes later, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said: “North Korea’s repeated missile launches are an outrage and absolutely cannot be forgiven.”
About half an hour after the launch was first reported, Japan’s coast guard said the missile had fallen.
Yonhap news agency reported that the first missile went through phase separation, suggesting it may be a long-range weapon such as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the long-range missile was fired near the North Korean capital, 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 these were short-range missiles fired from Kaechon, north of Pyongyang.
After North Korea’s launches on Wednesday, including a missile that landed less than 60 km (40 miles) off South Korea’s coast, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol described the flights as “territorial encroachment” and Washington condemned them as “reckless”.
South Korea issued rare air strike warnings and fired its own missiles in response after Wednesday’s barrage.
The launches came after Pyongyang demanded the US and South Korea halt major military exercises, saying such “military rashness and provocation can no longer be tolerated”.
The allies have conducted one of the largest air exercises ever, with hundreds of South Korean and US warplanes, including F-35 fighter jets, staging simulated missions around the clock.
On October 4, North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan for the first time in five years, prompting a warning to residents there to take cover. It was the farthest North Korea had ever fired a missile.
Reporting by Kantoro Komiya in Tokyo and Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul Editing by Chris Reese, Lincoln Feast and Gerry Doyle
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