South Korea has threatened to “exterminate” Kim Jong-un as tensions across East Asia heightened after North Korea fired a ballistic missile over the skies of Japan.
Japanese officials said the missile took off from Pyongyang and flew above the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido before landing in the Pacific Ocean.
There was no damage to ships or anything else reported, while Japan’s NHK TV said the missile separated into three parts.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch, telling reporters: “We will do our utmost to protect people’s lives.
“This reckless act of launching a missile that flies over our country is an unprecedented, serious and important threat.”
Residents on Hokkaido were warned of a possible missile launch by a mobile phone message which told people to seek shelter in a “sturdy building or basement”.
South Korea’s response
South Korea responded in the hours after the missile test by launching four F-15 fighter jets and dropping eight MK-84 bombs against a simulated target at the Pilsung training range on the border of the two countries and near the demilitarised zone.
Robert Kelly, associate professor at Pusan National University’s Department of Political Science, told CNN: “North Koreans can’t just shoot missiles over people’s countries, there has to be some response.
“It looks somewhat escalatory, it’s got to be tough, to send a signal, but they don’t want to be too tough because no one wants to get into a war.”
According to the Reuters news agency, South Korean Colonel Lee Kuk-No warned: “If North Korea threatens the security of the South Korean people and the South Korea-U.S. alliance with their nuclear weapons and missiles, our air forces will exterminate the leadership of North Korea with our strong strike capabilities.”
A formal statement release by the South Korean government shortly after said: “We are fully ready for any threat from the North and will make unwavering efforts to protect the lives of our people and the security of our nation.”
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North Korea defends the launch
Despite their missile test, North Korea pointed the finger at the United States for driving the Korean peninsula towards “an extreme level of explosion”.
Han Tae Song, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, also declared that Pyongyang was justified in responding with “tough counter-measures”.
He told the UN Conference on Disarmament: “Now that the US has openly declared its hostile intention towards the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, by waging aggressive joint military exercises despite repeated warnings… my country has every reason to respond with tough counter-measures as an exercise of its right to self defence.
Donald Trump vowed to increase pressure on North Korea, standing “100% with Japan” after speaking on the phone with the Japanese prime minister.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson expressed “outrage” at the “reckless provocation” of the latest missile launch.
Mr Johnson tweeted: “Outraged at reckless provocation by #NorthKorea. Strongly condemn latest illegal missile launch by #DPRK.”
China warned that the situation on the Korean peninsular had reached “a tipping point approaching a crisis” and urged restraint from all sides.
Reports said the launch was believed to be the first to rocket fired from North Korea over Japan since 2009.
The launch comes amid heightened tension in East Asia after North Korea threatened to fire missiles towards the US territory of Guam.
This missile landed nowhere near Guam, which is about 1,550 miles south of Tokyo, but the length of the launch may have been designed for the North to show it could follow through on its threat.
It happened after Pyongyang expressed anger at joint US-South Korea military exercises.