PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — 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.
“It blows a big hole in the birthday party,” said Victor Cha, former director for Asia policy in the U.S. National Security Council, contacted in Washington. “It’s terribly embarrassing for the North.”
He said the next step would be to watch whether North Korea conducts a nuclear test, as has been speculated by the South Korean intelligence community. North Korea is reportedly making preparations for such a test soon.
“We have to watch very carefully what they are doing now at the nuclear test site and how they explain this with all those foreign journalists in the country,” Cha said.
In Pyongyang, there was no word about a launch. North Korean officials said they would make an announcement about the launch “soon.” At Kim Il Sung Square, the city’s main plaza, residents were sitting around waiting for a rehearsal for upcoming celebrations.
It had earlier said that the rocket would be fired any day between April 12 and April 16. The daily window was supposed to be 7 a.m. to noon.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said the rocket launch was confirmed a “failure.” He provided no details.
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.View Entire Story
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