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North Korea fires four ballistic missiles close to north-west Japan

SEOUL/TOKYO: North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan's north-west early yesterday, South Korean and Japanese officials said.

The incident comes just days after North Korea promised retaliation over US-South Korea military drills it sees as a preparation for war.

South Korea's military said the missiles were unlikely to have been intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), which can reach the United States. The missiles flew on average 1,000km and reached a height of 260 km.

Some of the missiles landed in waters as close as 300km from Japan's north-west coast, Japan's Defence Minister Tomomi Inada said in Tokyo.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said "strong protests" had been lodged with nuclear-armed North Korea.

"The launches are clearly in violation of (United Nations) Security Council resolutions. It is an extremely dangerous action," Mr Abe told parliament.

South Korea's acting President Hwang Kyo Ahn condemned the launches as a direct challenge to the international community and said Seoul would swiftly deploy a US anti-missile defence system despite angry objections from China.

The missiles were launched from the Tongchang-ri region near the reclusive North's border with China, South Korean military spokesman Roh Jae Cheon told a briefing.

It was too early to say what the relatively low altitude indicated about the types of missiles, he said.

Joshua Pollack, editor of the US-based Non-Proliferation Review, said it did not appear the North had launched an ICBM.

"It sounds like a field exercise involving deployed missiles, probably ones we've seen before," he said. - REUTERS

North KoreaJapanSouth China Sea