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North Korea launches long-range rocket

North Korea has fired a long-range rocket, which Pyongyang claims is aimed at launching a peaceful research satellite. The test appears to have had a measure of success, with an object apparently placed into orbit.

The rocket fired on Wednesday morning by the North appeared to have passed over the island chain of Okinawa, the Japanese government said.

"Launch time was around 9:49 am. The missile that North Korea calls a satellite passed over Okinawa around 10:01. We launched no interception."

An immediate protest was lodged by Tokyo, which like Seoul and Washington believes that such launches are disguised ballistic missile tests. Japan had warned North Korea not to go ahead with the launch, and is now calling for the matter to be debated at a meeting of the UN Security Council.

"It is extremely regrettable that North Korea went through with the launch despite our calls to exercise restraint," chief government spokesman Osamu Fujimura was reported as saying to the AFP news agency. "We strongly protest to North Korea."

Meanwhile, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called an emergency meeting of top national security ministers.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan told reporters the launch was a "clear violation" of UN Security Council resolutions that ban it from conducting ballistic missile tests.

"Our government strongly condemns, along with the international community, North Korea for ignoring repeated warnings and requests to cancel the launch and carrying on with such provocations," Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan told reporters.

China also voiced its displeasure at the launch, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei telling reporters, "we express regret at [North Koreas] launch in spite of the extensive concerns of the international community."

Initial indications of object in orbit

While Japanese television station NHK said the rocket's second stage had crashed into the sea off the Philippines as planned. The North American Aerospace Defense Command said that initial indications were that the rocket had deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit.

The Philippines imposed a fishing ban in the area where the debris fell.

The launch was the second such test under leader Kim Jong Un, who took power following the death of his father Kim Jong Il a year ago. It is believed to have been timed, at least in part, to coincide with the late leader's anniversary.

rc/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)