North Korea fires long-range rocket that passes over Japanese island

A vehicle carrying a PAC-3 missile interceptor arrives at a port on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa in Japan. AP Photo

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea has fired a long-range rocket in a launch that critics see as cover for a banned missile test.

Japan’s national broadcaster NHK broke into normal programming to alert the news of Sunday morning’s launch and show live footage of Patriot missile batteries on the island of Okinawa deployed to shoot down any debris that might potentially fall on Japanese territory.

It said the North Korean rocket was launched at 9:31 a.m. Japan time. Japan’s NHK broadcaster reported that the Japanese government said the rocket passed over the southern Japanese island of Okinawa but no anti-missiles were fired.

The launch Sunday follows North Korea’s claim last month to have tested a hydrogen bomb and will likely draw more sanctions and condemnation in the United Nations.

A South Korean defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of office rules, says the South Korean military was tracking the rocket’s trajectory but gave no further details.

He says the launch from the North’s west coast launching pad was made between 9:30-9:35 a.m. local time.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called the North Korean launch and the recent nuclear test violations of U.N. agreements.

He told reports: “We absolutely cannot allow this. We will take action to totally protect the safety and well-being of our people.”

The Japanese government says no rocket debris fell on the Japanese territory and there are no reports of damage.

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