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North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile, 12th This Year, in Latest Provocative Move

North Korea fired an unspecified ballistic missile off its east coast, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement on Wednesday, a launch also reported by Japan’s military. It was the reclusive nation’s twelfth such launch this year. “The North is continuing its escalation of military provocations and risks destabilizing the region,” the statement said. The missile appeared to have a range of 550 km (340 miles), placing it outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. Schools in northern Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture were told to delay start times, and some train services were suspended. Japan’s defense minister, Yasukazu Hamada, said the missile appeared on a lofted trajectory, which the North typically uses to avoid neighboring countries and make it harder for the US to identify and track such launches.

Pyongyang is likely trying to test a new type of long-range missile, possibly one that uses solid fuel, a defense official in Seoul said on condition of anonymity due to office rules. The North’s current ICBMs use liquid fuel, which must be loaded before firing. The official said that solid fuel would make such a missile easier to launch and faster to shoot into space.

The launch came barely a month after North Korea’s last launch and weeks after its failed attempt to send a satellite into orbit. It was also a day before tens of thousands marched in anti-US rallies to mark the 73rd anniversary of the start of the Korean War. According to state media, protesters denounced the US as the destroyer of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and warned of nuclear war.

Analysts say the latest test could be part of efforts to build a solid-fuel ICBM capable of reaching the United States, the South, and Japan. In his New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to build such a weapon in response to perceived US military threats.

Experts also say that the soaring trajectory of this missile suggests it may have been a test of a hypersonic weapon, which could reach the US with less warning than conventional ballistic missiles. However, the North’s previous tests of such weapons have yet to be successful.

The test also comes amid tensions sparked by Pyongyang’s recent claims of US spy aircraft intruding on its airspace. The United States says it will defend its allies, including South Korea and Japan, with full military capabilities. This includes the strategic nuclear umbrella, which protects allies with conventional and nuclear weapons.

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