North Korea missile explodes in midair after launch, South's military says

By Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea test-fired what appeared to be a hypersonic missile off its east coast on Wednesday, but it exploded in midair, South Korea's military said.

The missile was launched from near the capital, Pyongyang, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Japan's Defence Ministry said the missile flew to an altitude of about 100 km (62 miles) and range of more than 200 km.

Senior officials of South Korea, the United States and Japan held a phone call and condemned the launch as a violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and a serious threat to the peace and stability of the region and beyond.

South Korean and U.S. air forces said they conducted joint exercises involving F-22 and F-35 stealth fighter as part of their annual Buddy Squadron training.

South Korea's marine corps staged separate firing drills near the maritime border with the North for the first time since Seoul scrapped an inter-Korean military pact early this month. The drills were announced earlier in June.

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command also issued a condemnation and called on Pyongyang to refrain from further unlawful and destabilising acts.

"While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, or territory, or to our allies, we continue to monitor the situation," it said in a statement.

North Korea's last missile launch was on May 30.

North Korea this week criticised the deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier to joint drills with South Korea and Japan, and warned of an "overwhelming, new demonstration of deterrence".

The missile launch comes a day after the 74-year anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War.

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit and signed a mutual defence pact. Seoul, Washington and Tokyo criticised the two countries' deepening military cooperation, with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol calling the pact "anachronistic".

North Korean state media KCNA said on Wednesday a mass rally in Pyongyang was held to commemorate the war anniversary, calling it a day of "struggle against U.S. imperialism" and calling the United States the archenemy.

Recently, North Korea has flown hundreds of balloons carrying trash toward the South, including on Tuesday, while Pyongyang deployed a large group of soldiers to build new fortifications within the heavily armed border between the two Koreas, according to the South's military, occasionally drawing warning shots from South Korean counterparts.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Sandra Maler, Stephen Coates, Gerry Doyle and Michael Perry)