HONG KONG (CNN)-
North Korea surprised and angered the international community Wednesday by launching a long-range rocket just days after suggesting it would be delayed.
The secretive North Korean regime said the rocket had successfully blasted off from a space center on its west coast and claimed the satellite it was carrying had entered its intended orbit. The launch followed a botched attempt in April.
Neighboring countries confirmed that the rocket had taken off Wednesday morning and flown south over the Japanese island of Okinawa, but they didn’t say whether it had succeeded in putting a satellite in orbit. North Korea claimed in 2009 that a rocket that fell into the Pacific Ocean had successfully launched a satellite.
Many nations, such as the United States and South Korea, consider the launch to be a cover for testing ballistic missile technology. The nuclear-armed North has insisted its aim was to place a scientific satellite in space.
Britain was quick to condemn Pyongyang’s move on Wednesday, saying it breached U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“This provocative act will increase tensions in the region,” Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement. He said he deplored the fact that North Korea “has chosen to prioritize this launch over improving the livelihood of its people.”
Britain will “urgently consult” with other members of the Security Council about the response to the launch, Hague said.
The launch came as a surprise to the United States, which did not expect it to take place Wednesday, a senior U.S. official said.
The Japanese government said it believed one part of the rocket came down in the sea off the Korean Peninsula, a second part dropped into the East China Sea and a third fell into waters near the Philippines.
“It is extremely regrettable that North Korea forced the launch despite our protest,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said at a news conference in Tokyo. “It is not acceptable, and we strongly protest against it.”
The rocket appeared to follow the trajectory that would have been expected, a U.S. official said, cautioning that data were still being analyzed.
South Korea’s semi-official news agency Yonhap reported that President Lee Myung-bak has convened an emergency security meeting in Seoul.
A launch had seemed unlikely to take place so soon after North Korea announced Monday that it was extending the launch window into late December, citing technical issues in an engine.
Previous launch attempts by the North in 2006 and 2009 failed to achieve their stated goal of putting a satellite into orbit and provoked international condemnation.
Pyongyang had said this rocket launch would be “true to the behests” of Kim Jong Il, the late North Korean leader and father of Kim Jong Un, head of the ruling regime.
Kim Jong Il died on December 17 last year, so the first anniversary of his death falls within the launch window that North Korea has announced.
Experts had also speculated that Pyongyang wanted this launch to happen before the end of 2012, the year that marks the centenary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and grandfather of Kim Jong Un.
CNN’s Paul Armstrong, Jethro Mullen, Paula Armstrong and Jethro Mullen in Hong Kong reported and wrote. CNN’s K.J. Kwon in Seoul, Junko Ogura in Tokyo, and Elise Labott and Barbara Starr in Washington contributed to this report.
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