U.S. shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon

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STORY: U.S. military fighter aircraft brought down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday.

The mission capped a dramatic saga that drew a spotlight on worsening U.S.-China relations.

“We successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviator who did it.”

Washington has called the balloon a "clear violation" of U.S. sovereignty.

“On Wednesday when I was briefed on the balloon, I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible…”

Military leaders advised against shooting down the balloon when it was over Montana due to the risk of falling debris, officials said.

The shootdown came shortly after the U.S. government ordered a halt to flights around the South Carolina coast due to what it called an undisclosed “national security effort.”

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a temporary flight restriction to clear airspace, blocking flights within 100 square miles – mostly over the Atlantic Ocean, according to a document posted by the FAA.

The notice warned the military could use deadly force if airplanes violate the restrictions and do not comply with orders to leave.

China's foreign ministry said on Saturday that the flight of the "airship" over the United States was a force majeure accident and accused U.S. politicians and media of taking advantage of the situation to discredit Beijing.

The suspected Chinese spy balloon prompted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a visit to China this week that had been expected to start on Friday.

The Pentagon said on Friday that another Chinese balloon was observed over Latin America, without saying where exactly.

The U.S. military said it will attempt to quickly recover key elements of the balloon among the debris off the coast of South Carolina.