North Korea surprises world, launches long-range rocket

Korea rocket

North Korea successfully launched a long-range rocket today, in defiance of UN sanctions threats over what Pyongyang's critics have condemned as a disguised ballistic missile test.

North Korea said the three-stage rocket, which Pyongyang insists was solely aimed at placing a satellite in orbit, had achieved all its objectives.

"The launch of the second version of our Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite from the Sohae Space Centre ... on December 12 was successful," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

"The satellite has entered the orbit as planned," it said.

Officials in South Korea and Japan confirmed that all three stages of the rocket appeared to have separated as scheduled.

However, South Korean defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok cautioned that further analysis was required.

"There are many factors to determine whether it was successful or not ... we need more extensive analysis. We need more consultation with the United States since our own capability is limited," Kim told reporters.

There was no immediate comment from Washington. But Japan's government said it "cannot tolerate" the "extremely regrettable" launch, and Britain "deplored" North Korea's decision to go ahead rather try to improve its people's welfare.

In Seoul, President Lee Myung-Bak called an emergency meeting of his National Security Council to discuss the implications of the launch.

The North's decision to launch the rocket in winter had led analysts to suggest a political imperative behind the timing, which may have overruled technical considerations.

New leader Kim Jong-Un was believed to be extremely keen that the launch fell around the first anniversary of the death of his father and former leader Kim Jong-Il on December 17.

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