(BBC) – The UN Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting later following North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket earlier today.
The meeting was requested by South Korea, Japan and the U.S. to agree on a collective response to the launch.
Pyongyang said it fired the rocket to place a satellite in orbit, but critics believe the real purpose was to test a ballistic missile.
Sunday’s launch comes weeks after North Korea held a fourth nuclear test – both acts violate UN resolutions.
The launch of the rocket was hailed by North Korean media as a “fascinating vapour… trailing in the clear and blue sky in spring of February on the threshold of the Day of the Shining Star”.
A statement said a new Earth observation satellite, Kwangmyongsong-4, had successfully been put into orbit less than 10 minutes after lift-off from the Sohae space centre in North Phyongan province.
Hailing it as part of the country’s peaceful space programme, a state TV newsreader said the launch had been ordered by North Korea’s leader Kim Jon-un and more satellite launches were planned for the future.
South Korean MPs were told in a closed-door briefing by the country’s spy agency later on Sunday that the launch should be treated as a ballistic missile test as the satellite it put into orbit would be useless.
The payload was presumed to weigh 200kg (440lbs), double the size of the one launched in 2012, but much lighter than the 800-1,500kg usual for a satellite.
They were also reportedly told that North Korea has the technology for intercontinental ballistic missiles and is preparing a fifth nuclear test, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it “deeply deplorable”, while Nato said it was in “direct violation” of five UN Security Council resolutions.
China – a key ally of Pyongyang’s – said it “regrets” North Korea’s actions but urged “the relevant parties” to “refrain from taking actions that may further escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula”.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned of “significant measures to hold the DPRK [North Korea] to account.”
Contenders for the Republican ticket in the US presidential election this year were asked for their reaction during a debate in New Hamshire.
Donald Trump said China was the key. “I would get on with China. Let China solve that problem.” Jeb Bush said he would not rule out an attack on North Korea. “If a pre-emptive strike is necessary to keep us safe, then we should do it.”
UN Security Council resolutions ban the state from carrying out any nuclear or ballistic missile tests.
The North insists its space programme is purely scientific in nature but the US, South Korea and even ally China say the rocket launches are aimed at developing inter-continental ballistic missiles.