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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. 

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On Wednesday, China's state news agency Xinhua said North Korea had the "right to conduct peaceful exploration of outer space."

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But it added: "Pyongyang should also abide by relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 1874, which demands (North Korea) not to conduct 'any launch using ballistic missile technology' and urges it to 'suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme.'"

U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who heads the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, quickly condemned the launch and called for tougher sanctions.

"It is clear that Pyongyang is moving ever closer towards its ultimate goal of producing a nuclear ballistic missile in order to threaten not only our allies in the Asia-Pacific region but the U.S. as well," she said.

A senior adviser to South Korea's president said last week it was unlikely that there would be a meaningful set of sanctions agreed at the United Nations but that Seoul would expect its allies to tighten sanctions unilaterally.

A year on for the third Kim 

Kim Jong-un, believed to be 29 years old, took office after his father died on Dec. 17 last year and experts believe that Wednesday's launch was intended to commemorate the first anniversary of the death.

The April launch was timed for the centennial of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and the grandfather of its current ruler.

"This is a considerable boost in establishing the rule of Kim Jong-un," said Cho Min, an expert at the Korea Institute of National Unification.

There have been few indications the secretive and impoverished state, where the United Nations estimates a third of the population is malnourished, has made any advances in opening up economically over the past year.

North Korea remains reliant on minerals exports to China and remittances from tens of thousands of its people working on labour projects overseas.

The 22 million population often needs handouts from defectors who have escaped to South Korea in order to afford basic medicines.

Given the puny size of its economy - per capita income is less than $2,000 a year - one of the few ways that North Korea can attract world attention is by emphasising its military threat.

Pyongyang wants the United States to resume aid and to recognise it diplomatically, although the April launch scuppered a planned food deal.

It is believed to be some years away from developing a functioning nuclear warhead and to have enough plutonium for around half a dozen nuclear bombs, according to nuclear experts.

The North has also been enriching uranium which would give it a second path to nuclear weapons as it sits on vast natural uranium reserves.

It says that its development is part of a civil nuclear program, but has also boasted of it being a "nuclear weapons power".

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