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North Korean rocket puts satellite in orbit

This monitor screen image shows the Unha-3 rocket lift­off from a launch site on the west coast of North Korea, near the Chinese border.

Korea News Service

This monitor screen image shows the Unha-3 rocket lift­off from a launch site on the west coast of North Korea, near the Chinese border.

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Koreans clinked beer mugs and danced in the streets of Pyongyang to celebrate the country's first satellite in space. In Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, leaders pushed for consequences for Wednesday's successful rocket launch, widely seen as a test that takes the country one step closer to being capable of lobbing nuclear bombs over the Pacific.

The surprising launch of a three-stage rocket raises the stakes in the international standoff over North Korea's atomic arsenal.

The U.N. Security Council, which has punished North Korea repeatedly for developing its nuclear program, condemned the launch Wednesday and said it will urgently consider "an appropriate response." The White House called the launch a "highly provocative act that threatens regional security," and even the North's most important ally, China, expressed regret.

In Pyongyang, however, pride over the scientific advancement outweighed the fear of greater international isolation and punishment.

"It's really good news," North Korean citizen Jon Il Gwang told the Associated Press as he and scores of other Pyongyang residents poured into the streets after a noon announcement to celebrate the launch by dancing in the snow. "It clearly testifies that our country has the capability to enter into space."

Wednesday's launch was North Korea's fifth bid since 1998. An April launch failed in the first of three stages.

Pyongyang did not immediately release images of the launch, but hours later Associated Press reporters at the Pyongyang satellite command center viewed a playback showing the rocket blasting off.

Director Kim Hye Jin said the satellite was broadcasting Song of Gen. Kim Il Sung and Song of Gen. Kim Jong Il in space.

Space officials say the satellite is meant to study crops and weather. But the launch could leave North Korea more isolated and cut off from aid and trade.

The U.N. imposed two rounds of sanctions after nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

The White House condemned what National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor called "yet another example of North Korea's pattern of irresponsible behavior."

"The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and fully committed to the security of our allies in the region," Vietor said in a statement. "Given this current threat to regional security, the United States will strengthen and increase our close coordination with allies and partners."

Pyongyang is thought to have a handful of rudimentary nuclear bombs. Experts believe the North lacks the ability to make a warhead small enough to mount on a missile that could threaten the United States, but Wednesday's launch marks a milestone in its decades-long effort to perfect a multistage, long-range rocket capable of carrying such a device.

For North Koreans, Wednesday's launch caps a heady year of milestones: the centenary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the nation's founder, and the inaugural year of his grandson, Kim Jong Un. And on Dec. 17, North Korea will mark the anniversary of the death of leader Kim Jong Il.

"How happy would our General (Kim Jong Il) have been," Pyongyang resident Rim Un Hui said. "I'm confident that our country will be stronger and more prosperous under the leadership of Kim Jong Un."

North Korean rocket puts satellite in orbit 12/12/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 11:28pm]
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