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North Korea fires suspected ICBM

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Seoul: A day after both Koreas fired missiles in an escalation of tensions, North Korea on Thursday fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) designed to hit targets on the other side of the world, said South Korean officials.

The ICBM launch is Pyongyang’s seventh this year, and comes amid concerns that it will soon test a nuclear weapon.

Wednesday’s exchange saw the most number of missiles launched by the North in a single day as Seoul also hit back.

On Thursday, Pyongyang fired a long-range missile at around 7.40 am local time, according to a statement from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The BBC confirmed it was an ICBM.

It flew for about 760km and reached a height of around 1,920 km. But it appeared to have failed mid-flight, according to Yonhap news agency citing sources.

Pyongyang also fired two short-range ballistic missiles.

The launches led the Japanese government to issue a rare emergency alert on Thursday to residents in some of its northern regions, telling them to stay indoors.

Tokyo initially said the missile had flown over Japan, but Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada later said it did “not cross the Japanese archipelago, but disappeared over the Sea of Japan”.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida later condemned North Korea’s “repeated missile launches”, calling them an “outrage”, the BBC report said.

North Korea’s multiple launches comes as the US and South Korea are staging their largest-ever joint air drills, which Pyongyang has strongly criticised as “aggressive and provocative”.

The US said the launch demonstrated the threat North Korea’s missile programme poses to neighbours and international peace and security.

“Our commitments to the defence of the Republic of Korea and Japan remain ironclad,” a State Department spokesman said.

Meanwhile South Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the launches were “deplorable, immoral” during a phone call on Thursday, according to South Korea.

It comes just a month after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan – the first time it had done so in five years.

The North has tested a record number of missiles this year as tensions have risen.

Despite crippling sanctions, Pyongyang conducted six nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017 and is believed to be planning a seventh, the BBC said.

It has continued to advance its military capability – in breach of UN Security Council resolutions – to threaten its neighbours and potentially even bring the US mainland within striking range.

Wednesday’s launch saw one of Pyongyang’s ballistic missiles cross the Northern Limit Line (NLL), a disputed maritime border between the Koreas. It landed outside South Korea’s territorial waters but was the closest a North Korean missile got to the border.

Seoul responded with warplanes firing three air-to-ground missiles that also crossed the disputed maritime demarcation line. Pyongyang fired a total of 23 missiles on Wednesday. And they were launched from various points across the country, the BBC quoted Kim Jong-dae, a visiting scholar of Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies.

“South Korea and the US believe that if they find the starting point of the provocation, they can precisely strike it. But there are starting points all over North Korea, and North Korea is posing dimensional, systematic and simultaneous threats that they can fire (missiles) anywhere in their land. This is a situation which I’ve seen for the first time,” Kim told local news channel YTN.

With accelerated activity from North Korea since late September, “the end of this is likely to be the seventh nuclear test, to prove their nuclear capabilities and determination,” Park Won-gon, North Korean studies professor at Ewha Woman University, told the BBC.

“It’s unrealistic to expect North Korea to denuclearise, as it wants de facto nuclear state status to sit on the negotiation table with the US.”

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