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North Korean rocket puts object into space, angers neighbours, US

By Reuters - Feb 07,2016 - Last updated at Feb 07,2016

This photo taken from North Korean TV and released by South Korean news agency Yonhap on Sunday shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (centre) looking at the rocket launch of Earth observation satellite Kwangmyongsong-4 (AFP photo/ North Korean TV via Yonhap)

SEOUL — North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Sunday carrying what it called a satellite, but its neighbours and the United States denounced the launch as a missile test, conducted in defiance of UN sanctions and just weeks after a nuclear bomb test.

The US Strategic Command said it had detected a missile entering space, and South Korea's military said the rocket had put an object into orbit.

North Korea said the launch of the satellite Kwangmyongsong-4, named after late leader Kim Jong-il, was a "complete success" and it was making a polar orbit of Earth every 94 minutes. The launch order was given by his son, leader Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be 33 years old.

The launch prompted South Korea and the United States to announce that they would explore the feasibility of deploying an advanced missile defence system in South Korea, which China and Russia both oppose, "at the earliest possible date".

North Korea's state news agency carried a still picture of a white rocket, which closely resembled a previously launched rocket, lifting off. Another showed Kim surrounded by cheering military officials at what appeared to be a command centre.

Isolated North Korea's last long-range rocket launch, in 2012, put what it called a communications satellite into orbit, but no signal has ever been detected from it.

"If it can communicate with the Kwangmyongsong-4, North Korea will learn about operating a satellite in space," said David Wright, co-director and senior scientist at the Global Security Programme of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"Even if not, it gained experience with launching and learned more about the reliability of its rocket systems."

The rocket lifted off at around 9:30am Seoul time (0030 GMT) on a southward trajectory, as planned. Japan's Fuji Television Network showed a streak of light heading into the sky, taken from a camera at China's border with North Korea.

North Korea had notified United Nations agencies that it planned to launch a rocket carrying an Earth observation satellite, triggering opposition from governments that see it as a long-range missile test.

The UN Security Council condemned the launch in an emergency meeting on Sunday, and vowed to take "significant measures" in response to Pyongyang's violations of UN resolutions, Venezuela's UN ambassador said.

Venezuelan Ambassador Rafael Dario Ramirez Carreno, president of the council this month, told reporters the launch was "a serious violation of Security Council resolutions".

US Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters: "We will ensure that the Security Council imposes serious consequences. DPRK's (North Korea) latest transgressions require our response to be even firmer."

The United States and China began discussing a UN sanctions resolution after Pyongyang's January 6 atomic test.

North Korea had initially given a February 8-25 time frame for the launch but on Saturday changed that to February 7-14, apparently taking advantage of clear weather on Sunday.

North Korea's National Aerospace Development Administration called the launch "an epochal event in developing the country's science, technology, economy and defence capability by legitimately exercising the right to use space for independent and peaceful purposes".

The launch and the nuclear test are seen as efforts by the North's young leader to bolster his domestic legitimacy ahead of a ruling party congress in May, the first since 1980.

North Korea's embassy in Moscow said in a statement the country would continue to launch rockets carrying satellites, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.


New missile defence?


South Korea and the United States said that if the advanced missile defence system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) was deployed to South Korea, it would be focused only on North Korea.

South Korea had been reluctant to discuss openly the possibility of deploying THAAD.

"North Korea continues to develop their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, and it is the responsibility of our Alliance to maintain a strong defense against those threats," Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, US Forces Korea commander, said in a statement. "THAAD would add an important capability in a layered and effective missile defence."

China, South Korea's biggest trading partner, repeated what it says is "deep concern" about a system whose radar could penetrate its territory.

South Korea's military said it would make annual military exercises with US forces "the most cutting-edge and the biggest" this year. North Korea objects to the drills as a prelude to war by a United States it says is bent on toppling the Pyongyang regime.

The United States has about 28,500 troops in South Korea.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would work with the UN Security Council on "significant measures" to hold North Korea to account for what he called a flagrant violation of UN resolutions on North Korea's use of ballistic missile technology.


South Korea's navy retrieved what it believes to be a fairing used to protect the satellite on its journey into a space, a sign that it is looking for parts of the discarded rocket for clues into the North's rocket programme, which it did following the previous launch.

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