North Korea has carried out what it characterizes as a “groundbreaking” peaceful launch to place a weather satellite into orbit, despite warnings from the United Nations and the United States. The event is being viewed by most of the world as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Seoul, Tokyo, Washington and the United Nations quickly condemned the Wednesday morning launch.
Leaders in Japan and South Korea convened emergency national security meetings.
South Korea's foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan, criticized Pyongyang for ignoring repeated warnings and requests to cancel the launch.
The foreign minister says this action will further isolate North Korea from the international community and the country should instead use the immense financial resources spent on nuclear and missile development “to solve the desperate lives of its people.”
In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called the North Korean launch totally unacceptable and regrettable.
Noda says he urges the public to stay calm and assures the Japanese people there will be a stern response by his government, in cooperation with the international community.
Japanese officials say none of their anti-missile batteries, which had been deployed in anticipation of the launch, fired at the North Korean rocket and no debris fell on Japan.
A statement from the U.S. National Security Council says “given this current threat to regional security, the United States will strengthen and increase” its close coordination with its allies and partners.
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The North American Aerospace Defense Command says “initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit.”
North Korea, in a special noon-time television broadcast, hailed the success of the launch from the Sohae Space Center.
The announcer, appearing in a pink hanbok traditional dress, says the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite was placed into orbit after being shot into space on the Unha-3 rocket.
North Korea's news agency later gave further details, saying the satellite, orbiting between 500 and 584 kilometers above the Earth, helps mark the 100th birth anniversary of the country's founding leader, Kim Il Sung.
North Korea is prohibited under previous U.N. resolutions from carrying out such launches as the technology can be used for ballistic missiles.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement, called the launch a clear violation of those resolutions and said he is concerned this provocation will have negative consequences for “peace and stability in the region.”
The United Nations Security Council convenes Wednesday to discuss the launch.
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North Korea is believed to have several nuclear weapons and there is concern in the international community that its space technology will allow it to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear weapon.
Even if North Korea never gets that far, aerospace researcher Charles Vick, the senior technical analyst for Global Security.org, says the isolated and impoverished country is now in the exclusive league of nations that have successfully conducted their own space launches.
“The Unha 3 launch vehicle certainly introduces them into the club, and it also at the same time represents a major issue of technology transfer and what is it actually going to be utilized in the long-run? So far this mission was for a scientific technology kind of demonstration, now let's see what follows,” he said.
And North Korea has achieved something its rival and vastly more affluent neighbor has failed to accomplish. South Korea, with some Russian technology, tried to launch a satellite from its own soil in 2009 and 2010. But both attempts were failures. Another try was made in November but was aborted just minutes before the scheduled lift-off due to a malfunction.
The next South Korean launch attempt is not expected until next year.
Youmi Kim in the VOA Seoul bureau contributed to this report.
Youths play instruments in front of the Pyongyang Grand Theater to celebrate the rocket launch, Pyongyang, North Korea, December 12, 2012.
Youths dance in front of the Pyongyang Grand Theater in Pyongyang, North Korea, December 12, 2012.
A North Korean dances to music in front of the Pyongyang Grand Theater, December 12, 2012.
South Korean religious leaders raise placards and shout slogans during a rally denouncing North Korea's rocket launch, Seoul, South Korea, December 12, 2012.
South Korean protesters burn a mock rocket as police officers spray fire extinguishers during a rally denouncing North Korea's rocket launch, Seoul, South Korea, December 12, 2012.
A South Korean protester shouts slogans during a rally denouncing North Korea's rocket launch, Seoul, South Korea, December 12, 2012.
South Korean man uses his smartphone to take a photo of television screen reporting news about North Korea's rocket launch at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 12, 2012.