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North Korea lets fly with seventh missile

North Korea launched a seventh missile at about 5.20pm (8.20am GMT) on Wednesday, according to Japan’s Defence Agency.

The missile landed six minutes later, but the location is not yet known.

North Korea earlier launched six missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2, all of which landed in the Sea of Japan.

Pyongyang’s action has triggered a storm of international reaction, including immediate sanctions imposed by Japan and an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York.

Tuesday’s launch was intended to cause maximum irritation to Washington — timed within minutes of the launch of the shuttle Discovery on Independence Day. But what was intended as a demonstration of North Korea’s military capabilities turned out to be a failure when the Taepodong-2 failed within seconds of lift-off.

The immediate reaction of the Bush administration seemed to be tempered by the lack of a real security threat. State Department officials said the Taepodong-2, which some analysts had believed capable of reaching the United States’s Pacific coast, failed within 42 seconds of launch. Japanese television said one missile landed in the Japan Sea, 592km off the mainland. Nonetheless the National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, told reporters: ”We do consider it provocative behaviour.”

Administration officials said the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was conferring with her counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea and Russia to determine a diplomatic response. Meanwhile, a senior State Department official was on his way to the region. Japan announced it was considering economic sanctions.

Two other missiles, which appeared to be smaller, previously tested Scud-type models were launched at the same time as the Taepodong; further missiles were reported hours later.

But while Tuesday’s tests exposed the weakness of North Korea’s missile programme and the hollowness of its threats, the launch was still viewed with great seriousness. The US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, on Tuesday night embarked on a flurry of diplomatic activity to try to persuade fellow members of the Security Council to take harsh measures against North Korea. In Tokyo, Japan’s chief spokesperson ”strongly protested” against the tests.

The launch of the Taepodong-2 follows concern in the US, Japan and South Korea that Pyongyang’s Stalinist leader, Kim Jong Il, was contemplating such a display as a bargaining measure. North Korea had been trying to restart the stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear programme. In addition, analysts believed Kim Jong Il had been trying to solidify his support within his military, and put pressure on the international community to pay greater attention to North Korea’s demands.

”This is a major setback for North Korea. Their strength was in pretending that they were going to test a missile,” said Joseph Cirincione, vice-president for national security at the Centre for American Progress, a Washington think tank. ”This fireworks display just blew up in his face.” – Sapa-dpa, Guardian Unlimited Â

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