North Korea missile launch sparks evacuations and alarm in Japan - what happened, what has been said?
Japanese authorities issued and then later retracted an alert that warned the missile from North Korea could fall on Hokkaido Island.
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Sirens blared across Japan’s Hokkaido Island, with residents being told to “evacuate immediately” around 8am local time on Thursday (13 April). Authorities later withdrew the alert when the weapon fell into the sea.
North Korea launched the missile between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to officials from South Korea, who called the move a “grave provocation”. The country’s military, which has said it is on high alert, believe North Korea may have been testing a new, harder-to-detect weapons system - possibly using solid fuel.
The United States, which “strongly condemned” the incident, said in a statement that the launch had been a long-range ballistic missile test. Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said his government will hold a National Security Council meeting to discuss what had happened.
It is the latest launch from North Korea, which has fired 27 missiles this year - prompting tensions to grow in the region.
The country has reportedly been working to increase its nuclear arsenal and build ever-more sophisticated weapons, after accusing the US and South Korea of escalating tensions by conducting joint military exercises. Washington and Seoul have said their exercises are defensive in nature.
This particular launch came just days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his military to adopt a “more practical and offensive” manner in war deterrence, as reported by its state media agency KCNA.
Seoul had already been concerned as of late, since over the last week North Korea had not been answering twice-daily phone calls from its government. Typically, the two Koreas exchange calls at 09:00 and 15:00 local time via a military hotline - daily check-ins which are intended to prevent clashes along the countries’ border.
South Korea’s Unification Minister Kwon Young-se on Tuesday (11 April) described the North’s suspension of communication as “unilateral and irresponsible”.
Japanese broadcasting organisation NHK spoke to a student who had been at a train station on Hokkaido Island when the evacuation siren sounded. He said that the alert had caused momentary fear and “panic”, but “a station worker said to calm down, and people did.”