North Korea launches rocket that lands near Philippines
SEOUL — Once again defiant in the face of international sentiment, North Korea fired a long-range rocket Wednesday that passed over Okinawa minutes after liftoff and finally went down near the Philippines, raising worries about a new capability for a country that has persistently pursued a nuclear weapons program.
The North quickly declared the launch a success. A two-sentence statement, posted on the Korea Central News Agency at 11:30 a.m., said it had put a satellite in orbit as planned. The U.S. and other countries have called it a thinly veiled test of long-range missile technology and had urged Pyongyang not to launch.
North Korea’s last launch attempt, in April, was a miserable failure that even Pyongyang admitted went wrong. The rocket broke up minutes after takeoff, exploding over Baeknyeong Island.
The distance that the rocket traveled Wednesday was worrying for many countries. There have been concerns that it could reach the U.S. West Coast, and Japan said the third stage went down about 200 miles east of the Philippines.
The Unha-3 rocket was fired from the Tongchang-ri launch site at 9:51 a.m., and was immediately detected by radar on the King Sejong Aegis warship, according to South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense. The first stage separated at 9:52 a.m., and the remainder passed over western Okinawa at 9:58 a.m.
President Lee Myung-bak was holding an emergency meeting with his national security advisers, an MND spokesman said, adding that officials would not be able to determine whether the launch was a success or failure until Wednesday afternoon. Japan said it strongly protested the North’s action.
The launch provides further evidence that new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who assumed control of the country last December after the death of his father, longtime dictator Kim Jong Il, is continuing the same policies of confrontation and provocation that the reclusive communist country has pursued for decades.
The launch occurred one week before South Korea’s Dec. 19 presidential election. Officials have been speculatingd that the North would conduct a provocation to influence the outcome of the race.
Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.