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N. KOREA TEST-FIRING OF MISSILE OVER JAPAN ALARMS U.S. OFFICIALS

North Korea test-fired a new long-range ballistic missile today, with the first stage landing in the Sea of Japan and the second stage flying over northeastern Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean.

The launch just after noon (midnight EDT Sunday) was confirmed by Japanese, South Korean and U.S. defense officials.

"The Defense Department feels it is a serious development and will be evaluating the situation," U.S. Defense Department spokesman Jim Kout said in Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, visiting Sarajevo, said she was alarmed by the test launch. "This is something that we will be raising with North Koreans in the talks that are currently going on," she said.

Those talks, in New York, are over a U.S. proposal for the North to suspend missile development in exchange for nuclear energy know-how. Some Korea watchers said they suspect the launch was timed to raise the stakes.

In response to the missile launching, Japan today refused to back a long-planned agreement to help fund two nuclear reactors for North Korea.

"We see this as a very dangerous act," said chief government spokesman Hiromu Nonaka. Japan's Defense Agency said the first stage landed 190 miles southeast of Vladivostok, Russia.

Russian military officials said the missile was faulty and had veered off course.

"There was an accident during the launch. The rocket fell 350-400 km (220-250 miles) from the launch site after gaining a little height and veering from its flight trajectory," ITAR-Tass news agency said, quoting an official from the Strategic Rocket Forces.

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