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North Korea fires long-range missile day after warning the South of ‘unprecedentedly persistent’ response

North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile a day after it warned of an “unprecedentedly” strong response to an upcoming joint military drill by the US and South Korea.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the long-range missile was fired at around 5.22pm on Saturday from an area near Pyongyang’s international airport, where the North has conducted most of its recent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests.

Japanese authorities said the missile flew about 900km before it splashed down into the sea off Japan’s west coast.

There were no immediate reports of damage to ships or airplanes, but the missile could be one of North Korea’s largest, reported Reuters.

The missile seemed to have the potential to fly a range of 14,000km – enough to reach the continental US – according to Japan’s defense minister Yasukazu Hamada.

The ballistic missile launch comes a day after North Korea threatened to carry out an “unprecedentedly persistent, strong” response to the US and South Korea teaming up for annual joint military exercises to counter the North’s nuclear and missile threats.

Saturday’s launch is the first time North Korea has fired a ballistic missile this year after a string of unprecedented missile tests in 2022.

Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida condemned the missile launch, calling it “an act of violence that escalates provocation toward the international order”.

Mr Kishida said Tokyo is communicating closely with Washington and Seoul over the launch, reported the Associated Press.

While the UN has banned North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapon development, Pyongyang has maintained that its weapons programmes are necessary to counter “hostile policies” by the US and its allies.

Experts said some of these new missiles may include a new system linked to North Korea’s reported desire to acquire a solid-fuel ICBM.

While North Korea’s current ICBMs use liquid propellants and cannot remain fueled for prolonged periods, a solid-fuel alternative would be easier to move around on vehicles with less chances of being spotted.

Recent state media footage from a military parade in Pyongyang last week suggested North Korea has more ICBMs than ever before, and the country may have also created a separate military unit to operate its new ICBMs.

It remains unclear, however, whether the missile launch on Saturday was of a solid-fuel ICBM.

South Korea condemned the North in response to the missile launch and said it would continue to cooperate with the US against its neighbour’s threats and provocations.

As part of a joint exercise to counter the missile threats, South Korea and the US have also planned field exercises, including live fire drills in the following weeks and months.