Seoul, Feb 7: North Korea today said it had successfully put a satellite into orbit, with a rocket launch widely condemned as a ballistic missile test for a weapons delivery system to strike the US mainland.
The launch, which violated multiple UN resolutions, amounted to the North doubling down against an international community already struggling to punish Pyongyang for its nuclear test a month ago.
There was no immediate external confirmation that the final stage of the satellite-bearing rocket had successfully achieved orbit, although a US defence official said the launch vehicle "appears to have reached space."
An earlier unconfirmed report from South Korea's Yonhap news agency had suggested the second stage may have malfunctioned.
In a special state TV broadcast, a female North Korean announcer, wearing a traditional Korean hanbok dress, said the launch, personally ordered by leader Kim Jong-Un, had "successfully put our Earth observation satellite Kwangmyong 4 ... into orbit."
While stressing that the launch represented the legitimate exercise of North Korea's right to the "peaceful and independent" use of space, she also noted that it marked a "breakthrough in boosting our national defence capability."
The North's scientists would work towards further satellite launches in the future, she added. Condemnation was swift, with the United States calling the launch "destabilising and provocative", while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slammed it as "absolutely intolerable."
In New York, diplomats said the UN Security Council would meet in emergency session later today. South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said the Council should respond quickly with "strong punitive measures" against what she called a grave challenge to global peace and security.
The rocket, carrying an Earth observation satellite, took off at around 9:00 am Pyongyang time, according to the South Korean defence ministry which was monitoring the launch site.
Its pre-orbital flight arc was planned to traverse the Yellow Sea and further south to the Philippine Sea, with both South Korea and Japan threatening to shoot it down if it encroached on their territory.
Multiple UN Security Council resolutions proscribe North Korea's development of its ballistic missile programme. Despite Pyongyang's insistence on a peaceful space mission, its rockets are considered dual-use technology with both civil and military applications.
The United States, along with allies like South Korea and Japan, had warned Pyongyang it would pay a heavy price for pushing ahead with launch, but analysts said the North's timing was carefully calculated to minimise the repercussions.
With the international community still struggling to find a united response to the North's January 6 nuclear test, the rocket launch -- while provocative -- is unlikely to substantially up the punitive ante.