North Korea fires suspected ICBM, sparks evacuation order in Japan

North Korea has test-launched a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that landed in the waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, prompting Tokyo to lodge a “strong protest.”

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement on Thursday that the launch was carried out in the vicinity of Pyongyang at 7:23 a.m. local time, and the missile, which was fired at a lofted angle, managed to fly some 1,000 kilometers before splashing into the water.

“The intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting a comprehensive analysis on its detailed specifications,” it added, describing the launch as a “grave, provocative act.”

The South Korean Yonhap News Agency, citing an unnamed Seoul official, said that Pyongyang appeared to have tested a “new” missile system, adding that the allies were looking into “various” possibilities, including the launch having involved a solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Following the launch, Seoul also convened an emergency meeting of its National Security Council, which also condemned the test launch.

Japan, for its part, issued a rare alert that was later retracted for residents of its northern island of Hokkaido to seek immediate shelter, fearing that the missile might hit the island.

Japan’s emergency broadcasting system, known as J-Alert, told millions of inhabitants of Hokkaido to take immediate cover, but lifted it soon after, saying it had “erroneously” predicted that the missile, which appeared to be a long-range projectile, would fall near the island.

Nevertheless, Tokyo later said that the initial evacuation alert was appropriate and had not been made in error. “We did not correct the information issued by J-Alert,” the chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, told a news conference.

Separately, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the government had confirmed that “no missile had landed within Japanese territory” and that Tokyo was continuing to analyze the launch.

The developments come as Washington and Seoul have been expanding their combined military drills in response to what they call North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. The US has a permanent military presence in South Korea, with about 28,500 troops in its bases across the country.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un recently called on his military to be ready for war.

North Korea, which declared itself an “irreversible” nuclear power last year, is seeking to diversify delivery mechanisms for its nuclear weapons. Its military conducted a firing drill late last month, simulating a nuclear attack using tactical ballistic missiles.

The North, which has been under harsh sanctions by the US and the United Nations Security Council for years over its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs, launched an unprecedented number of missiles in 2022, including its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile ever.

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