TOKYO — North Korea launched three ballistic missiles Tuesday morning and at least one of them flew over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, public broadcaster NHK reported. The government issued an alert for residents in some prefectures to take cover.
Although North Korea has sent a missile over Japan once before — in 1998 — this launch comes at a time of heightened tensions. Pyongyang has been threatening to fire a missile over Japan and into the waters around the American territory of Guam.
“We’ll make the utmost effort to protect the public,” a visibly agitated Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, told reporters at his office early Tuesday morning.
The missiles were launched at 5:58 a.m. Japan time and one flew over Hokkaido at 6:60 a.m.
South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff also confirmed the missile had passed over Japan.
The missile flew 733 miles to land in the Pacific Ocean east of Hokkaido’s Cape Erimo, NHK reported.
Kim Jong Un, who has ordered the launch of 18 missiles this year alone, has defied international calls to desist and has instead been making strides in his weapons program, last month launching two intercontinental ballistic missiles theoretically capable of reaching the mainland United States.
Tuesday’s launch, coming on the heels of three short-range missiles fired Saturday, comes amid ongoing joint exercises between the United States and South Korean militaries, exercises that North Korea always strongly protests because it considers them preparation for an invasion.