- Residents of Japan have been told to take shelter after the launch
- South Korea and US to extend precautionary storm drills
- North Korea also fired five more missiles
- Pyongyang says extending drills is ‘irresponsible’, ‘wrong’
TOKYO/SEOUL, Nov 3 (Reuters) – North Korea fired several missiles into the sea on Thursday, including a possible intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), prompting the United States and South Korea to extend air drills that angered Pyongyang.
Despite an initial government warning that a sighted ICBM had flown over Japan, triggering alarm bells for some residents, Tokyo later said this was incorrect.
The launches came a day after the North fired a record 23 missiles a day, including one that landed off the coast of South Korea for the first time, and drew swift condemnation from Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.
Since Monday, South Korea and the United States have deployed hundreds of South Korean and U.S. fighter jets, including F-35 fighter jets. Fighter jets are conducting simulated missions around the clock, conducting one of the largest air exercises ever.
South Korea’s air force said in a statement that after Thursday’s ICBM launch, the allies agreed to extend the drills, which were due to end last Friday.
“A strong joint defense posture of the ROK-US alliance is necessary under the current security crisis, which is escalating due to North Korean provocations,” the statement said, using the initials of South Korea’s official name.
Late Thursday, Park Jong-chon, secretary of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, said the United States and South Korea had made a very dangerous decision by extending the drills and were “pushing” the situation out of control.
“The United States and South Korea will find that they have made a grave and irreversible mistake,” Park said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA. He has previously issued statements calling for a halt to drilling.
Simulated South Korean and US stealth aircraft strikes during drills likely led North Korea to test a record number of missiles this week, but Pyongyang will turn up the heat ahead of a potential nuclear test, experts say.
Officials in South Korea and Japan said Thursday that one of the missiles could be an ICBM, North Korea’s longest-range weapon, designed to deliver a nuclear warhead to the other side of the Earth.
North Korea also launched five short-range ballistic missiles.
South Korean officials believe the ICBM failed in flight, Yonhap news agency reported without elaborating. Spokesmen for the South Korean and Japanese defense ministries declined to confirm the possible failure.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukasu Hamada said the government had lost track of the ICBM over the Sea of Japan, prompting it to correct its announcement that it had flown over the country.
Yoji Koda, a retired vice admiral and former Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force squadron commander, said the projectile’s loss of radar tracking indicated a failed launch.
“It means that at some point in the flight path the missile had some problem and it actually separated,” he said.
North Korea has failed several ICBM tests this year, according to South Korean and US officials.
The United States condemns North Korea’s ICBM launch, State Department spokesman Ned Price said, saying it demonstrates the threat posed by Pyongyang’s illicit weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
South Korea issued rare air strike warnings and launched its own missiles in response after Wednesday’s attack. On Thursday, the South’s Ministry of Transport announced that air routes in the area where the missile fell had been closed for about 24 hours.
After Thursday’s first launch, residents of Japan’s Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures were warned to shelter indoors, the J-Alert emergency broadcasting system said, after confirming that the ICBM had not escaped from Japan.
“At least it’s lucky it didn’t fly over Japan, but it’s unimaginable how many times they (North Korea) can violate UN resolutions and repeat these illegal actions,” said Toshio Sumi, 74, a Tokyo technician.
The first missile flew to an altitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) and a range of 750 kilometers, he said. Such a flight pattern is called a “loft trajectory,” in which a missile is fired high into space to avoid flying over neighboring countries.
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 Japan’s coast guard reported a second and third launch from North Korea. South Korea said both were short-range missile launches from Kaechon, north of Pyongyang.
South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman condemned North Korea’s series of missile launches as “tragic and immoral” in a phone call on Thursday, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.
In brief comments to reporters minutes later, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said North Korea’s “repeated missile launches are outrageous and absolutely inexcusable.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian refrained from commenting directly on North Korea’s missile launches or potential sanctions at a regular news briefing on Thursday, instead reiterating the standard line from Beijing that all sides hoped the issues could be resolved peacefully through talks.
Reporting by Kantoro Komiya, Tim Kelly, Chang-Ran Kim and David Dolan in Tokyo, Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in SEOUL and Eduardo Baptista in Beijing; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Chris Reese, Lincoln Feast, Gerry Doyle, Kim Coghill, Alexandra Hudson and Mark Heinrich
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