A pedestrian in Tokyo, Japan, stops to watch a screen displaying news reporting of North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile on Monday. Photo by Kimimasa Mayama/EPA-EFE
Oct. 4 (UPI) -- North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday, Japanese and South Korean officials said, marking the gravest provocation by the reclusive nation in years.
The suspected missile launch prompted officials in Japan to issue a rare alert to residents of Aomori and Hokkaido Prefecture to "evacuate into a building or underground." The prime minister's office minutes later also directed residents of those areas to contact authorities immediately "if you find anything suspicious."
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno confirmed in a press conference that North Korea had launched a single ballistic missile at 7:22 a.m. with it falling into the Pacific Ocean about 20 minutes later after having sailed through Japan's exclusive economic zone and over its northeastern Tohoku region.
The missile was over Japan for a matter of minutes and traveled a total of 2,858 miles at an altitude of 621 miles before falling some 124 miles outside of Japan's economic zone, according to a statement from Japan's ministry of defense.
In South Korea, the office of President Yoon Suk-yeol said the projectile was an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
An emergency National Security Council meeting with Yoon present was held where the participants condemned the launch while also vowing to respond.
"We made it clear that continued North Korean provocations cannot be tolerated and that there is a price to be paid," Yoon's office said in a statement, adding that the president has called for an increase in coordinated punitive measures, including sanctions, to be imposed against North Korea by the international community.
The launch is the fifth missile test by North Korea in about a week amid joint military training exercises between the United States, South Korea and Japan near the Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang has also conducted a record number of weapons tests this year, but Tuesday's represents the gravest provocation as it is the first time that North Korea has fired a missile over Japan since Sept. 15, 2017.
"The launch of ballistic missiles over Japan is a serious and imminent threat to our country's security, as well as a threat to the peace and security of the region and the international community," Matsuno said in a statement.
Firing ballistic missiles over Japan without prior warning represents not only a threat to aircraft and ships but also to the safety of residents, he added.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has since spoken with his Japanese and Korean counterparts with all three condemning the launch and its "blatant disregard of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions" as well as "its deeply destabilizing implications for the region," a readout of the conversations from the State Department said.
"Secretary Blinken underscored that the U.S. commitment to the defense of the ROK and Japan remains ironclad," the department said, referring to South Korea by the initials of its official name, the Republic of Korea.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that the launch was "an outrageous act" by North Korea "and I strongly condemn it."
"In response to this situation, I have have given instructions to check for any damage caused by falling objects, conduct thorough information gathering and analysis and coordinate with relevant countries," he said.