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Defiant North Korean rocket launch gives Kim Jong-un a boost (+video)

One year into his role as North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un made a statement by launching a rocket on Wednesday. Experts suggest the launch was intended to honor the current leader's father who died last year. 

By Jack Kim and Mayumi NegishiReuters / December 11, 2012

In this file photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a massive military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea fired a long-range rocket Wednesday in its second launch under its new leader, South Korean officials said, defying warnings from the U.N. and Washington.

AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File

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SEOUL/TOKYO

North Korea successfully launched a rocket on Wednesday, boosting the credentials of its new leader and stepping up the threat the isolated and impoverished state poses to its opponents.

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The rocket, which North Korea says was designed to put a weather satellite into orbit, has been labelled by the United StatesSouth Korea and Japan as a test of technology that could one day deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting targets as far as the continental the United States.

"The satellite has entered the planned orbit," North Korea's state news agency KCNA said.

North Korea followed what it said was a similar successful launch in 2009 with a nuclear test that prompted the United Nations Security Council to stiffen sanctions against Pyongyang that it originally imposed in 2006 after the North's first nuclear test.

The state is banned from developing nuclear and missile-related technology under U.N. resolutions, although Kim Jong-un, the youthful head of state who took power a year ago, is believed to have continued the state's "military first" programmes put into place by his deceased father Kim Jong-il.

After Wednesday's launch, which saw the second stage of the rocket splash down in seas off the Philippines as planned, Japan's U.N. envoy called for a Security Council meeting. However, diplomats say further tough sanctions are unlikely to be agreed at the body as China, the North's only major ally, will opppose them.

The rocket was launched just before 10 a.m. Korea time (01000 GMT), according to defence officials in South Korea and Japan, and easily surpassed a failed April launch that flew for less than two minutes.

There was no independent confirmation it had put a satellite into orbit.

Japan's likely next prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who is leading in opinion polls ahead of an election on Dec. 16 and who made his name as a North Korea hawk, called on the United Nations to adopt a resolution "strongly criticising" Pyongyang.

There was no immediate official reaction from Washington, South Korea's major military backer, or from China.

China had expressed "deep concern" over the launch which was announced a day after a visit by a top politburo member to Pyongyang when he met Kim Jong-un.

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