TOKYO (AP) - North Korea's test launch of a missile into the sea between Korea and Japan generated a wave of disbelief and anger among its Asian neighbors, who warned it would only increase anxiety in an already nervous region.
The test was particularly sensitive because it came just hours before the inauguration of South Korea's new President Roh Moo-hyun, a ceremony attended by dignitaries including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
In Tokyo, stock prices plunged despite official reassurances that the launch did not appear to involve weapons with a range that would get them even close to Japan.
"There is no indication that a long-range missile was tested,'' said Yasuo Fukuda, the chief spokesman for Koizumi's Cabinet. "It is important for us to find out why this occurred.''
Taku Yamasaki, a senior member of Koizumi's ruling party, added that the missile was believed to have been launched to the northeast, toward Russia.
As they spoke, however, jittery traders sold off shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
Share prices on the benchmark 225-issue Nikkei Stock Average lost 204.46 points, or 2.39 percent, at the closing Tuesday. They had climbed the previous day.
"The market has declined considerably in response to the news,'' said Ryu Matsuo, of Nomura Securities. "Export issues appear to be the most affected.''
Japan has good cause for concern.
In August 1998, North Korea fired a multistage missile over Japan, home to roughly 50,000 U.S. troops, and into the Pacific.
That proved all of Japan was within range of its missiles, and perhaps nuclear warheads.
Pyongyang later pledged to freeze such tests, a promise reiterated by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in a summit with Koizumi last fall.
Japanese officials stressed that the moratorium had not been violated by Tuesday's test, since no long-range missiles were launched.
There was no immediate response from China, one of the North's only close allies in the region.
But Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian said the timing of the missile test was "very abnormal.''
"This North Korean missile incident is enough to show the gravity, importance and urgency of the missile defense system proposed by the U.S.,'' he said.
Chen also drew a parallel between the North Korean missiles and those targeted by China at Taiwan, saying Taiwan, Japan and South Korea all have to make an effective response to the problem.
Concerns were also expressed from representatives at the ongoing non-aligned movement summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri told reporters he had no specific comment on the test, since he'd just heard about it.
But he added; "We are not in favor of ratcheting up either the nuclear race, or a race in any part of the world.
"We are not happy with anybody, whether it's North Korea, India or Pakistan taking up the initiative on this issue.''
Pakistan has long been suspected of having imported missile technology from North Korea.
It denies such a connection, however.
Charles Twining, a retired U.S. ambassador attending the summit as an observer, said the launch underscores the need for the international community to bring Pyongyang back into line.
"It does not seem like a gesture that friends of the Korean Peninsula, those who want peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, want to see in the area,'' he said.
"It just makes it even clearer that something has to be done to persuade North Korea by diplomatic means to work with the international community.'' - AP
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