North Korea has launched a ballistic missile that overflew Japan, an aggressive step the country has not taken in almost 20 years and which will undermine protracted US efforts to bring the nuclear aspirant to the negotiating table.

The Japanese government issued an alert in its second largest island, Hokkaido, to take cover, putting residents on alarm and marking a significant escalation in tensions.

NHK, Japan’s national news service, said the missile fell into the waters 1,180km east of Hokkaido’s capital, Cape Erimo, at about 6am on Tuesday.

The Pentagon also confirmed the launch.

“We assess North Korea conducted a missile launch within the last 90 minutes. We can confirm that the missile launched by North Korea flew over Japan. We are still in the process of assessing this launch,” said Col Rob Manning, Pentagon spokesman, adding no threat to north America was detected.

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