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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

World leaders react in alarm as North Korea fires ballistic missile over Japan

US president Donald Trump said 'all options are on the table' with regards to Washington's response to Pyongyang's provocation

Pedestrians in Tokyo walking in front of a huge screen displaying a map of Japan and the Korean Peninsula, following a North Korean missile test that passed over Japan on August 29, 2017. Kazuhiro Nogo/AFP Photo
Pedestrians in Tokyo walking in front of a huge screen displaying a map of Japan and the Korean Peninsula, following a North Korean missile test that passed over Japan on August 29, 2017. Kazuhiro Nogo/AFP Photo

World leaders reacted with outrage and alarm as North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday.

“North Korea’s reckless action is an unprecedented, serious and grave threat to our nation,” said the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, appearing visibly unsettled.

Responding to North Korea's provocation, US president Donald Trump said "all options are on the table" and that the move signalled Pyongyang's "contempt for its neighbours, for all members of the United Nations".

"Threatening and destabilising actions only increase the North Korean regime's isolation in the region and among all nations of the world," he said.

The missile fell into the Pacific Ocean, some 1,200 kilometres off Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, said chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga.

In a show of force, South Korea deployed four F-15K fighter jet fighters in bomb-dropping drills, after President Moon Jae-in ordered the military to demonstrate capabilities to counter Pyongyang.

Leaders from the UAE, Russia, United States and European Unions called for restraint.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, during a news conference on August 29, 2017 in Abu Dhabi with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, where the leaders discussed current world issues including North Korea's launch of a missile over Japan. Jon Gambrell/AP Photo
UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, during a news conference on August 29, 2017 in Abu Dhabi with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, where the leaders discussed current world issues including North Korea's launch of a missile over Japan. Jon Gambrell/AP Photo

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said "the situation cannot continue to escalate between North Korea on one side and Japan and South Korea on the other".

He said "North Korea cannot continue to disregard the UN Security Council resolutions and the UN's call to stop its provocations."

His Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, who held a joint conference with Sheikh Abdullah in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, called on Pyongyang to respect the United Nations.

Earlier, his deputy Sergei Ryabkov said Russia was "extremely concerned" about the escalating tensions.

Mr Ryabkov said the joint military drills between Seoul and Washington, which started on August 21, "had played their role in provoking Pyongyang into this new firing".

Tens of thousands of troops are participating in the two-week "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" exercise on the Korean Peninsula in a move which the North views as highly provocative, seeing it as a rehearsal for an invasion.

The missile launch — likely the longest ever from the North — was a clear message of defiance over the war games nearby.

“This is a big concern of course to my government and to a number of other governments,” said the US disarmament ambassador Robert Wood in Geneva before a session of the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament.

“It’s another provocation by North Korea, they just seem to continue to happen.”

Further analysis on the launch was needed, he said, but the provocation will be the subject of a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday.

The European Union condemned the move, warning of possible steps following the UN meeting.

"We fully support calls for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council today," the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said, adding that the bloc will look at an "appropriate response in close consultation with key partners and in line with UN Security Council deliberations".

South Korea’s military said the missile was launched from near Pyongyang, just before 6am and flew 2,700km, reaching a maximum height of about 550km.

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Sirens blared out and text messages warning people in the missile's flight path to take cover were fired off across northern Japan.

Trains were delayed as passengers were urged to seek shelter inside stations.

"All lines are experiencing disruption," said one sign on Sapporo's metro system. "Reason: Ballistic missile launch."

Japan has in the past vowed to shoot down North Korean missiles or rockets that threaten to hit its territory.

But it made no attempt to do so on Tuesday - when the missile flew over the country for two minutes - with defence minister Itsunori Onodera saying generals believed it posed no risk to the country.

"Today is really quite a horrible day for Japan," security commentator Ankit Panda said on Twitter following Tuesday's overflight.

Residents of Tokyo were worried the capital might not be ready for the worst.

Nursery school teacher Yuki Hiwatari, said the missile test was a wake-up call.

"I think about our children," the 35-year-old mother of two told the Associated Press. "An event like this makes me extremely worried about their future."

"What happened today is becoming part of our daily lives. We need to draw up an emergency plan for a missile launch," even if it's never actually needed, she said.

Homemaker Harumi Yoshida worries that Tokyo could become a target one day.

"The government says do this and that, take caution and evacuate in an emergency," Ms Yoshida, 39, told the Associated Press. "But is there really anything we can do? Ordinary citizens like us don't even have shelters at home."

But not everyone in Tokyo was alarmed. Animator Yoshihiro Tanaka said Pyongyang's main target was the US and Japan need not worry.

"The missile scare has been hyped up. I think people are over-reacting to it," Mr Tanaka, 53, told AP.

The last time a North Korean rocket overflew Japan was in 2009, when Pyongyang said it was a satellite launch. Washington, Seoul and Tokyo believed it was a clandestine test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Pyongyang last month carried out two overt ICBM tests that appeared to bring much of the US mainland within reach for the first time and heightened strains in the region.

At the time, US president Donald Trump issued an apocalyptic warning of raining "fire and fury" on the North, while Pyongyang threatened to fire a salvo of missiles towards the US territory of Guam.