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North Korea fires long-range rocket, S. Korea calls launch failure

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A rocket is lifted off from its launch pad in Musudan-ri, North Korea in this April 5, 2009 AP file photo.

PYONGYANG, North Korea — Defying international concerns, North Korea fired a long-range rocket early Friday that splintered into pieces over the Yellow Sea about a minute after takeoff in an apparent failure, South Korean and U.S. officials said.

The liftoff took place at 7:39 a.m. (2239 GMT Thursday) from the west coast launch pad in the hamlet of Tongchang-ri, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said, citing South Korean and U.S. intelligence.

The U.S., South Korea and many other countries had warned against the launch, calling it a provocation and a cover to test missile technology. North Korea had insisted it would not back down, and said the rocket would only carry a civilian satellite, touting it as a major technological achievement to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, on Sunday.

Still, if the rocket failed, it would be a major embarrassment for Pyongyang, which has invited dozens of international journalists to observe the rocket launch and other celebrations.

It has staked its pride on the satellite, seeing it as a show of strength amid persistent economic hardship while Kim Il Sung’s grandson, the 29-year-old Kim Jong Un, solidifies power following the death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, four months ago.

In Pyongyang, there was no word about a launch. North Korean officials said they would make an announcement about the launch “soon.”

South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said the rocket launch was confirmed a “failure.” He provided no details. But earlier, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters the rocket splintered into pieces moments after takeoff.

In Washington, a U.S. official also said the launch appeared to have failed. The official offered no further details and would not discuss the source of the U.S. information.

“We suspect the North Korean missile has fallen as it divided into pieces minutes after liftoff,” said the official.

Tokyo, which was prepared to shoot down any rocket flying over its territory, also confirmed a launch from North Korea.

“We have confirmed that a certain flying object has been launched and fell after flying for just over a minute,” Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka said. He said there was no impact on Japanese territory.

North Korean space officials said the Unha-3 rocket is meant to send a satellite into orbit to study crops and weather patterns — its third bid to launch a satellite since 1998. Officials took foreign journalists to the west coast site to see the rocket and the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite Sunday in a bid to show its transparency amid accusations of defiance.

The United States, Britain, Japan and others have called such a launch a violation of U.N. resolutions prohibiting North Korea from nuclear and ballistic missile activity.

Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is the same type of rocket that would be used to launch a long-range missile aimed at the U.S. and other targets. North Korea has tested two atomic devices but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.

Source: Associated Press

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