North Korea unsuccessfully fired an intercontinental ballistic missile during a new salvo of launches Thursday, the South Korean military said, with Washington urging all nations to enforce sanctions on Pyongyang.
In response to the launches, South Korea and the United States said they would extend their ongoing joint air drills, the largest-ever such exercises -- a move Pyongyang immediately branded "an irrevocable and awful mistake".
People in parts of northern Japan were ordered to seek shelter during the North's latest launches, which included five short-range missiles and followed a blitz of projectiles fired Wednesday.
The largest of Thursday's launches, however, "is presumed to have ended in failure", the South Korean military said.
The United States slammed the ICBM launch, while the G7 club of rich nations said it condemned the flurry of missiles "in the strongest terms".
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin described the ICBM launch as "illegal and destabilising" and branded the North's actions "irresponsible and reckless" during a joint news conference at the Pentagon alongside his South Korean counterpart Lee Jong-sup.
Austin issued a stern warning to Pyongyang that "any nuclear attack against the United States or its allies and partners" would "result in the end" of Kim Jong Un's regime.
Washington confirmed information provided by the South Korean military, which said it had detected the launch of the long-range ballistic missile at around 7:40 am (2240 GMT Wednesday) in the Sunan area of Pyongyang.
Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the ICBM -- which flew about 760 kilometres (470 miles) at a top altitude of 1,920 kilometres -- appeared to have failed during "second-stage separation".
The South's military also detected what were "believed to be two short-range ballistic missiles fired at around 8:39 am from Kaechon, South Pyongan province".
That was followed late in the day by three more short-range ballistic missiles fired towards the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, according to Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
South Korea's military "is maintaining a full readiness posture while closely cooperating with the US and strengthening surveillance and vigilance", it said.
'Shocked and frightened'
Pyongyang fired more than 20 missiles on Wednesday, including one that landed near South Korea's territorial waters, triggering an air raid siren warning on Ulleungdo, an island about 130 kilometres off the country's east coast.
"We were shocked and frightened, as something like this had never happened before. We didn't know where to take refuge," said Chae Young-sim, a 52-year-old shopkeeper on the island.
One short-range ballistic missile crossed the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border, on Wednesday, prompting South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to call it "effectively a territorial invasion".
The launches come as Seoul and Washington stage their largest-ever joint air drills, involving hundreds of warplanes from both sides.
Pyongyang has called the exercise, dubbed Vigilant Storm, "an aggressive and provocative military drill targeting the DPRK".
The exercise had been due to end Friday, but South Korea's air force said Thursday that the joint drills would be extended in response to the latest launches.
Pyongyang said this was "a very dangerous and false choice" and warned that Washington and Seoul's "provocative military acts" were taking the situation into "an uncontrollable phase".
America "and South Korea will get to know what an irrevocable and awful mistake they made", Pak Jong Chon, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, said in a statement carried by news agency KCNA.
Japan confirmed Thursday's launches, with the government issuing a special warning to residents of northern regions to stay indoors or seek shelter.
Tokyo initially said the ICBM had flown over Japan, prompting a "J-Alert" to be issued, but defence minister Yasukazu Hamada later said "the missile did not cross the Japanese archipelago, but disappeared over the Sea of Japan".
'Tactical nuclear drills'
Washington and Seoul have repeatedly warned that the North's recent missile launches could culminate in another nuclear test -- which would be Pyongyang's seventh.
"They are ready to conduct the nuclear test," but the timing is still unclear, Lee said at the news conference with Austin.
Chad O'Carroll of Seoul-based specialist site NK News said on Twitter that it is "quite possible tactical nuclear weapons test(s) will be next. Possibly very soon."
Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean studies scholar, agreed.
"These are North Korea's pre-celebration events ahead of their upcoming nuclear test," he told AFP.
"They also seem like a series of practical tests for their tactical nuclear deployment."
North Korea revised its laws in September to allow for pre-emptive nuclear strikes, with Kim declaring the country to be an "irreversible" nuclear power -- effectively ending negotiations over its banned arms programmes.
On October 4, North Korea fired a missile over Japan that also prompted evacuation warnings. It was the first time North Korea had fired a missile over Japan since 2017.
Pyongyang later claimed that the launch and a blizzard of other tests around the same time were "tactical nuclear drills" that simulated showering South Korea with nuclear-tipped missiles.
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