KOREA — North Korea fired a long-range rocket on Wednesday despite warnings from the UN, Washington and Japan.
The Associated Pressreports that the launch — the second under North Korea leader Kim Jong Un — was fired from a West coast launch pad.
Reportedly, the launch was monitored by the South Korean military and confirmed by officials in Seoul and Tokyo.
In Japan, authorities said the rocket flew over Okinawa prefecture, a series of Japanese islands in the East China Sea.
The three-stage rocket was launched at 09:49 (00:49 GMT). Reports indicate it followed its intended trajectory, with stages falling in expected areas.
The Wednesday launch took place place on the third day of launch window that was set to run from December 10 to 22. On Monday, North Korea extended the launch window to December 29, due to technical issues.
The rocket was launched from a site on North Korea’s west coast. It was scheduled to pass between the Korean peninsula and China, with a second stage coming down off the Philippines before launching the satellite into orbit.
The Japanese government, which put its armed forces on alert ahead of the launch, have said the rocket appeared to have passed over parts of Okinawa prefecture, south of the Japanese mainland.
“The missile that North Korea calls a satellite passed over Okinawa around 10:01. We launched no interception,” a government statement quoted by AFP news agency said.
In response to international anger over the launch during its planning stage, North Korean officials said the rocket’s purpose was to launch a satellite into orbit.
However, Japan, Washington and the UN believe the satellite story is a pretext for North Korea’s to perfect its long-range missile technology and represents a serious security threat.
The launch takes place days before South Korea’s presidential elections between the “New Frontier” (Saenuri) Party’s Park Geun-hye and the opposition “Democratic United’s” Moon Jae-in, and about a month before President Obama’s second term inauguration.
Rocket testing is crucial to the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. It’s thought that Pyongyang only has a small number of limited-capability nuclear bombs and does not yet possess the means to build warheads small enough to mount on long-range missiles.
Wednesday’s launch is the country’s fifth attempt at a long-range launch since 1998, when Pyongyang launched a rocket over Japan.
In April this year, a Unha-3 rocket launch ended in embarrassment for North Korea after it broke up over the Yellow sea 80 seconds after take-off.
After coming to power in December 2011 following his father Kim Jong II’s death, current North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, has continued the country’s nuclear ambitions.
South Korean President, Lee Myung-bak, has called an high-level emergency meeting in the wake of the launch.