|People watch a news report on North Korea's planned rocket launch as the TV shows file footage of North Korea's Unha-3 rocket which launched in 2012, at a railway station in Seoul on February 3, 2016. — AFP/VNA Photo
SEOUL — North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Sunday, doubling down against an international community already determined to punish Pyongyang for a nuclear test last month.
There was no immediate confirmation that the final stage of the satellite-bearing rocket had successfully reached orbit, and an unconfirmed report from South Korea's Yonhap news agency suggested the second stage may have malfunctioned.
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 on Sunday.
North Korea insists its space programme is purely scientific, but most of the world views its rocket launches as disguised ballistic missile tests aimed at developing a weapons delivery system capable of striking the US mainland.
The rocket, carrying an Earth observation satellite, took off at around 9:00am Pyongyang time (0030 GMT), 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. — AFP