BBC:-North Korea has fired a missile over northern Japan in a move Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called an “unprecedented” threat to his country.
The missile, launched early on Tuesday Korean time, flew over Hokkaido island before crashing into the sea.
The UN Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting later in response.
North Korea has conducted a flurry of missile tests recently, but this is the first time it has fired what is thought to be a ballistic weapon over Japan.
On the two previous occasions its rockets crossed Japan – in 1998 and 2009 – North Korea said they were for satellite launch vehicles, not weapons.
The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo says this latest launch appears to be the first of a missile powerful enough to potentially carry a nuclear warhead.
North Korea’s ambassador to the UN, Han Tae-Song, defended his country’s actions and said they were a response to military drills carried out by the US and its allies in the region.
“Now that the US has openly declared its hostile intention towards DPR Korea [North Korea] by raising joint aggressive military exercises despite repeated warnings… my country has every reason to respond with tough counter-measures as an exercise of its rights to self-defence,” he told the Conference on Disarmament in the Swiss city of Geneva.
The US ambassador to the conference, Robert Wood, said: “It’s another provocation by North Korea, they just seem to continue to happen.
“This is a big concern, of course, to my government and to a number of other governments.”
The South Korean military said the missile was fired eastward just before 06:00 local time (21:00 GMT) from near the North’s capital, Pyongyang – which is rare.
Early analysis of the launch suggests the missile:
- flew a distance of more than 2,700km (1,678 miles)
- was likely to have been a Hwasong-12, a newly developed intermediate range weapon
- reached a maximum altitude of about 550km (342 miles), lower than most previous North Korean tests
- fell into the North Pacific Ocean 1,180km off the Japanese coast after breaking into three pieces