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N Korea tests long-range missile

US officials said the Taepodong missile - thought capable of reaching Alaska - failed shortly after take-off, while the others fell into the Sea of Japan. The US called the tests "provocative" and Japan has threatened sanctions. The UN Security Council is due to hold an emergency meeting later today to discuss the developments. The closed UN session was requested by Japan, which said it was co-ordinating its response to the missile tests with the US and other countries. Japanese and South Korean military are on high alert in the wake of the tests, and share prices have fallen in both countries. So far there has been no word from Pyongyang itself about the launches, but other nations have been quick to condemn the secretive North Korean regime. In the US, a state department official called the test-launches a "provocative act". "The United States strongly condemns these missile launches and North Korea's unwillingness to heed calls for restraint from the international community," said White House spokesman Tony Snow. The launches "demonstrate North Korea's intent to intimidate other states", he said, adding that Washington would take necessary steps to protect itself and its allies. US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill goes to the region. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said June 22 North Korea's missile capability is “fairly rudimentary'' and tests in the past haven't been “notably successful.'' North Korea fired a long-range Taepodong 1 missile that flew over Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean in 1998. It has test-fired short-range missiles since then, including a test of two missiles in March. North Korean government officials told a delegation of U.S. lawmakers visiting the country in January that it had developed nuclear weapons as a deterrent. North Korea's nuclear weapons program may have produced as many as 13 warheads, U.S. military officials have said.

Japan - one of North Korea's harshest critics, and in easy reach of a long-range missile - has also strongly condemned the missile tests. "This is a grave problem in terms of peace and stability, not only of Japan but also of international society," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe. Foreign Minister Taro Aso added it was highly possible his country would impose economic sanctions on North Korea. Tokyo has already announced a ban on visits by North Korean ferries. In South Korea - which has been anxious to promote reconciliation with its unpredictable northern neighbour - the government called an emergency cabinet meeting soon after the tests took place. Presidential aide Suh Choo-suk said the launches gave an excuse for an arms race in north-east Asia and damaged security. South Korea has consistently opposed the imposition of sanctions, but in recent days it warned of cutting food aid to the North should the missile tests go ahead. Analysts said the firing - North Korea's first test of a long-range missile since a self-imposed moratorium in 1999 - would also seriously damage prospects for stalled international talks on the North's nuclear program. (BBC, Bloomberg)