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'Unprecedented threat': North Korea fires missile over Japan

North Korea fired a ballistic missile Tuesday morning which flew over the Japanese island of Hokkaido before landing in the Pacific Ocean, prompting residents to seek shelter and calls for additional actions against the reclusive state.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile was launched near the North Korean capital Pyongyang and travelled more than 2,700 kilometres, reaching a maximum altitude of around 550 kilometres.

The missile, which was the first to pass over Japan since 2009, posed an "unprecedented, serious and grave threat" Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, adding that Tokyo had lodged a "stern protest" with North Korea.

Abe said Japan "will do its utmost to protect the lives of its people" and called for an emergency meeting at the UN to discuss additional actions against Pyongyang.

In a phone call with US President Donald Trump, the two leaders agreed to discuss further actions against North Korea to increase pressure on the reclusive state.

According to South Korean media reports, the UN Security Council is expected to hold a meeting on Tuesday.

Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the missile was fired around at 5:58 am (2058 GMT Monday) and flew over Cape Erimo on the northern island of Hokkaido before falling 1,180 kilometres east of the area.

Sirens went off in northern Japan as the missile flew overhead.

"Someone urged us to flee. But I did not know where to go," a woman at Sapporo Station on Hokkaido told broadcaster NHK.

No attempts to intercept the missile were made and it broke into three before falling into the Pacific Ocean, the Kyodo news service reported, citing unnamed government officials.

Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters that no order to intercept was issued as there was no danger of the missile landing in Japan.

In a show of South Korean military strength ordered by President Moon Jae In after the launch, fighter jets dropped eight bombs at a shooting range in the northern province on Gangwon, the Yonhap news agency reported.

South Korea also aired footage of ballistic missile tests of its own that were conducted last week, according to Yonhap.

The North Korean launch prompted rail operators in north-eastern and eastern Japan to temporarily suspend services and came as the US and South Korea conducted 11-day joint annual military drills, which Pyongyang has described as "reckless aggressive war manoeuvres."

There would be "ruthless retaliation and punishment," threatened a military spokesman on Pyongyang's official KCNA mouthpiece, a day after the annual drills began last Monday.

North Korea fired three missiles into the Sea of Japan on Saturday, the US Pacific Command confirmed, saying two of them flew some 250 kilometres.

Last week, the US and Japan placed new sanctions on entities and individuals that support North Korea, in countries such as China and Russia.

The US also successfully lobbied the UN earlier this month for sanctions on North Korea that are expected to cut the reclusive nation's export revenues by a third.

Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington escalated this month, as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened to fire missiles into waters near Guam and Trump threatened to rain "fire and fury" on North Korea.

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