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Japan on alert as North Korea fires missile over its territory

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Nuclear-armed North Korea has fired a ballistic missile over Japan for the first time in five years, prompting a warning for residents to take cover and a temporary suspension of train operations in northern Japan.

The Japanese government warned citizens to take cover on Tuesday as the missile appeared to have flown over and past its territory before falling into the Pacific Ocean.

It was the first North Korean missile to follow such a trajectory since 2017, and Tokyo said its 4600 kilometre range may have been the longest distance travelled for a North Korean test flight, which are more often “lofted” higher into space to avoid flying over neighbouring countries.

The latest launch was Pyongyang’s fifth in 10 days, amid military muscle-flexing by the United States, South Korea, and Japan. Last week, the three countries conducted trilateral anti-submarine exercises that included a US aircraft carrier, which stopped in South Korea for the first time since 2017.

Recent tests have drawn relatively muted responses from Washington, which is focused on the war in Ukraine as well as other domestic and foreign crises, but the US military has stepped up displays of force in the region.

Tokyo said it took no steps to shoot the missile down. Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Japan wouldn’t rule out any options, including counterattack capabilities, as it looks to strengthen its defences in the face of repeated missile launches from North Korea.

South Korea also said it would boost its military and increase allied cooperation.

“North Korea’s series of actions, including its repeated ballistic missile launches, threatens the peace and security of Japan, the region, and the international community, and poses a serious challenge to the entire international community, including Japan,” Japan’s top government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno, told a news conference.

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