North Korea’s ‘successful’ rocket launch condemned by neighbours

South Koreans watch the launch on TV. Picture: AFP/Getty
South Koreans watch the launch on TV. Picture: AFP/Getty
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NORTH Korea fired a long-range rocket today in a second launch under its new leader, defying warnings from the UN and Washington.

• Object identified by US space command from North Korean satellite

A photo taken in April shows two North Korean soldiers standing guard in front of the Unha-3 rocket

A photo taken in April shows two North Korean soldiers standing guard in front of the Unha-3 rocket

• White House condemns launch as ‘irresonsible’

• Debris from rocket falls west of Korean peninsula and east of the Phillippines

The state broadcaster announced the success of today’s launch in a live TV broadcast.

North Koreans watching TV in Pyongyang broke out into applause following the broadcast, about two hours after the launch.

South Korean and Japanese officials confirmed that lift-off took place. Along with the US, they had been urging Pyongyang to refrain from a launch widely seen as a cover for a test of banned ballistic missile technology.

South Korean defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told a nationally televised news conference that a South Korean Aegis-equipped destroyer deployed in the Yellow Sea detected the launch but South Korea did not know if the launch was successful.

North Korea had indicated technical problems with the rocket and recently extended its launch window to December 29.

Japan said one part of the rocket landed west of the Korean peninsula and another part was expected to have landed east of the Philippines.

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak planned an emergency national security council meeting later, and Japan protested over the rocket launch.

American space expert Jonathan McDowell, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, said the three-stage Unha-3 rocket delivered the satellite into orbit and constituted “a perfect success for North Korea”.

He said that based on his own calculations an object identified by US space command was from the North Korean satellite.

The apparent success came after two earlier failures with the Unha-3 rocket, including one in April that flamed out after only 90 seconds.

Meanwhile, Japan’s foreign ministry said it had registered a “strong protest” with Pyongyang over the launch.

It said that Tokyo had also immediately requested consultations on the launch within the UN Security Council.

The White House condemned the launch as a “highly provocative act that threatens regional security”.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor calling it “another example of North Korea’s pattern of irresponsible behaviour”.

In a statement, Mr Vietor said the US “remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations”, and will work with other nations and the UN Security Council “to pursue appropriate action” against North Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took power after his father Kim Jong Il died on December 17 last year, and the launch came days before South Korean presidential elections and about a month before president Barack Obama is inaugurated for his second term.

A similar launch in April broke apart shortly after lift-off, and the condemnation that attempt received is likely to be repeated. Washington sees the launch as a cover for a test of technology for missiles that could be used to strike the United States.

Rocket tests are seen as crucial to advancing North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Pyongyang is thought to have a handful of rudimentary nuclear bombs, but is not yet believed to be capable of building warheads small enough to mount on a missile that could threaten the United States.

North Korea said it chose a safe flight path so debris would not endanger neighbouring countries, but there are still concerns over falling debris, and Japan’s defence minister issued an order to missile units to prepare to intercept the rocket if it or its fragments threatened to hit Japan. Government spokesman Osamu Fujimura said later that no debris hit Japanese territory.