SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea fired a long-range rocket late Tuesday night in its second launch under its new leader, defying warnings from the U.N. and Washington only days before South Korean presidential elections.
North Korea declared the launch of a rocket and satellite a success, and state television planned a special broadcast about the launch today.
South Korean and Japanese officials confirmed that liftoff took place. Along with the U.S., they had been urging North Korea to refrain from a launch widely seen as a cover for a test of banned ballistic missile technology.
South Korean Defense 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 still didn’t know if the launch was successful. North Korea had indicated technical problems with the rocket and recently extended its launch window to Dec. 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 Wednesday, and Japan protested the rocket launch.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took power after his father Kim Jong Il died on Dec. 17 last year, and the launch also comes about a month before President Barack Obama is inaugurated for his second term.
The North says the Unha rocket was meant to put a satellite in orbit. A similar launch in April broke apart shortly after liftoff, 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. North Korea is thought to have only a handful of rudimentary nuclear bombs. But Pyongyang is not yet believed 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 won’t endanger neighboring countries. But there are still concerns over falling debris, and Japan’s defense minister issued an order to missile units to prepare to intercept the rocket if it or its fragments threaten to hit Japan. Government spokesman Osamu Fujimura said Wednesday that no debris hit Japanese territory.
The first stage of the rocket was expected to fall in the Yellow Sea and the second stage in waters east of the Philippines, according to South Korea. Fujimura described two confirmed debris sites in those general areas after the launch.