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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

North Korea launches missiles

TOKYO (Reuters) - North Korea launched up to four missiles on Wednesday, including a long-range Taepodong 2 that appeared to fail in flight, a U.S. official and media reports said.

A Pentagon official in Washington told Reuters two of the missiles launched by Stalinist and secretive North Korea appeared to have been small Scud-type models.

Experts say the Taepodong 2 is a multi-stage missile with a possible range of 3,500 km to 4,300 km, which could put parts of Alaska in range -- the cause of U.S. concerns.

A U.S. State Department official in Washington told Reuters a long-range missile, believed to be a Taepodong 2, failed 40 seconds after it was launched.

Japan's Kyodo news agency quoted the Japanese defence ministry as saying North Korea could have fired four missiles in all.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said the United States was "urgently consulting" other U.N. Security Council members about the North Korean missile launches. A White House spokeswoman said staff were in urgent consultations.

U.S. President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had warned North Korea against test-firing a long-range missile.

Last week, Bush echoed earlier U.S. threats of a harsh response if North Korea went ahead with such a launch. Koizumi said Japan would "apply various pressures" but declined to give details.

Japanese NHK television said one missile landed in the Japan Sea 600 km (370 miles) from the Japanese mainland.

No further details were immediately available.

Experts say North Korea is developing long-range missiles to have the capability one day to deliver a nuclear bomb, but that Pyongyang is years away from having such a weapons system.

The first time North Korea test-fired a long-range missile -- in 1998 over Japan -- it rattled financial markets and raised fears among the Japanese.

North Korea said in February 2005 it possessed nuclear weapons. It has threatened to build up its nuclear arsenal several times since then in response to what it perceives as increased U.S. threats.

U.S. officials said earlier an air force complex protecting the nerve centre of U.S. homeland defence at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado had been put on heightened alert amid persistent reports North Korea might test-fire a long-range missile.

On Monday, Pyongyang vowed to respond with an "annihilating" nuclear strike if attacked pre-emptively by the United States.
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