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Launch comes just over a week after Pyongyang test-fired a missile that appeared to explode shortly after liftoff.

North Korea has fired a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) towards the sea off its east coast, South Korea and Japan’s militaries said, in what would be the first such test of the isolated state’s largest missiles in nearly five years.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Thursday it detected the launch of an “unidentified projectile” from North Korea. It said the launch was assumed to be a long-range missile, possibly an ICBM fired on a “lofted” trajectory, Yonhap news agency reported.

South Korea’s Ministry of Defense did not immediately confirm whether the test involved an ICBM, which has not been test-fired at full range since 2017.

Japan’s government also said the launch could be a ballistic missile.

On March 16, North Korea launched a suspected missile that appeared to explode shortly after liftoff in the skies over Pyongyang, South Korea’s military said, amid reports that the nuclear-armed North was seeking to test-fire its largest missile yet.

The United States and South Korea have been warning that North Korea may be preparing to test-fire an ICBM at full range for the first time since 2017, possibly in the guise of launching a satellite.

US officials say at least two recent tests, on February  27 and March 5, featured North Korea’s largest ICBM system yet, the Hwasong-17.

‘Huge impact’

Kim Jong-ha, a security analyst at Hannam University in Daejeon, told Al Jazeera North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may be aiming to send a message to president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who is expected to take a harder line against Pyongyang once he takes office in May.

“I think if the missile launch is an ICBM, it would have a huge impact on security affairs in Northeast Asia,” Kim said.

“If North Korea continues to provoke in this way, it [the Yoon administration] is expected to make a quick decision to acquire additional weapons systems such as the deployment of THAAD, although there will be friction with China,” Kim added, referring to the US anti-ballistic missile defence system.

After several recent launches, Pyongyang said it was testing components for a reconnaissance satellite system. Kim Jong Un said this month that North Korea would soon launch multiple satellites to monitor military movements by the US and its allies.

Thursday’s launch would be at least the 13th ballistic missile test-fired by North Korea this year, an unprecedented frequency that has drawn condemnation from the US, South Korea and Japan.

Source: Al Jazeera

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