North Korea defies critics, launches rocket

[imageU.S. missile-warning systems detected the launch of a North Korean rocket today, and initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit.

The rocket was tracked on a southerly course, with the first stage falling into the Yellow Sea and the second stage falling into the Philippine Sea.

"Initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit," NORAD said in a statement. "At no time was the missile or the resultant debris a threat to North America."

The rocket was launched just before 10am (Korean time) and overflew the Japanese island of Okinawa.

A rocket launch by North Korea in April was aborted after less than two minutes flight. The launch came after the North carried out repairs on the rocket, which South Korean officials said had been removed from its gantry on Monday.

Both South Korea and Japan called meetings of their top security councils after the launch and Japan said it could not tolerate the action. Japanese television station NHK said the second stage of the rocket had crashed into seas off the Philippines as planned.

The North launched the rocket close to the December 17 anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong-il last year and as elections loom in South Korea and Japan.

Pyongyang says it is entitled to launch a satellite into space but critics say the rocket development is aimed at nurturing the kind of technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.

North Korea is banned from conducting missile and nuclear-related tests under U.N. sanctions imposed after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.

The rocket's path was scheduled to pass between the Korean peninsula and China, with a second stage splashing down off the Philippines before launching the satellite into orbit.

The United States has noted North Korea's rocket launch and is monitoring the situation, an administration official said.

"We noted the launch and we are monitoring the situation. We will have further official comment later," the official said in an email message.

North Korea launched a long-range rocket for the second time this year on Wednesday local time, and may have succeeded in putting a satellite into space.

Most political analysts believe the launch is designed to bolster the credentials of new leader Kim Jong-un as he cements his rule over the country of 22 million people.

A government official in Seoul said recently that the transition of power to Kim Jong-un did not appear to be going as smoothly as anticipated and there were signs that the regime was concerned over the possibility of rising dissent.

Kim is the third of his line to rule North Korea, whose national output is around one-fortieth of that of prosperous South Korea.

Plans for the launch had drawn criticism from South Korea, Russia, Japan and the United States as well as NATO and the United Nations.

The North's only major diplomatic ally, China, has expressed "deep concern" over the launch but is thought unlikely to back any further sanctions against its ally.


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