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North Korea launches missiles, US holds UN talks

Written by: Staff

TOKYO, July 5 (Reuters) North Korea launched six missiles today, including a long-range Taepodong 2 that apparently failed 40 seconds into its flight, US officials said.

The United States said it was urgently consulting other UN Security Council members after the launches, which occurred despite repeated warnings against such a move from the reclusive Stalinist country's neighbours and Washington.

The yen slid against the dollar and euro on the news.

Japan said three missiles were launched but could not immediately say if any were ballistic missiles that some experts fear could reach Alaska. A Pentagon official in Washington said two missiles appeared to have been small Scud-type models.

''It is regrettable and we protest strongly against North Korea for going ahead with a launch despite warnings from relevant countries, including Japan,'' Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told a news conference in Tokyo.

''It is a serious problem from the standpoint of our national security, peace and stability of the international community and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.'' South Korea said it had called an emergency meeting of its ministers involved in national security to discuss the missile launches.

''We are urgently consulting with other delegations of Security Council on the situation,'' the US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said in a statement.

LONG-RANGE MISSILE Experts say the Taepodong 2 is a multi-stage missile with a possible range of 3,500-4,300 km (2,190-2,690 miles).

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

Last week, US President George W Bush echoed earlier US threats of a harsh response if North Korea went ahead with a launch. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tokyo 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.

The missile launches occurred as the United States marked its July 4 Independence Day and shortly after the U.S. space shuttle Discovery blasted off from its Florida launch-pad.

''It got everybody's attention on the Fourth of July. (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-Il can set off fireworks, too,'' said John PIke, director of the security Web site GlobalSecurity.org.

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 US threats.

US officials said earlier an air force complex protecting the nerve centre of US 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.

Reuters DH VP0425

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