North Korea successfully launched a rocket on Wednesday, boosting the credentials of its new leader and stepping up the threat the isolated and impoverished state poses to its opponents.
The rocket, which North Korea says put a weather satellite into orbit, has been labelled by the United States, South Korea and Japan as a test of technology that could one day deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting targets as far as the continental United States.
"The satellite has entered the planned orbit," a North Korean television news-reader clad in traditional Korean garb triumphantly announced, after which the station played patriotic songs with the lyrics "Chosun (Korea) does what it says".
The rocket was launched just before 10 a.m. Korea time (01000 GMT), according to defence officials in South Korea and Japan, and easily surpassed a failed April launch that flew for less than two minutes.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said that it "deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit", the first time an independent body has verified North Korean claims.
North Korea followed what it said was a similar successful launch in 2009 with a nuclear test that prompted the United Nations Security Council to stiffen sanctions that it originally imposed in 2006 after the North's first nuclear test.
The state is banned from developing nuclear and missile-related technology under U.N. resolutions, although Kim Jong-un, the youthful head of state who took power a year ago, is believed to have continued the state's "military first" programmes put into place by his deceased father Kim Jong-il.
North Korea lauded Wednesday's launch as celebrating the prowess of all three Kims to rule since it was founded in 1948.
"At a time when great yearnings and reverence for Kim Jong-il pervade the whole country, its scientists and technicians brilliantly carried out his behests to launch a scientific and technological satellite in 2012, the year marking the 100th birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung," its KCNA news agency said.
Washington condemned Wednesday's launch as a "provocative action" and breach of U.N. rules, while Japan's U.N. envoy called for a Security Council meeting. However, diplomats say further tough sanctions are unlikely to be agreed at the body as China, the North's only major ally, will opppose them.
"The international community must work in a concerted fashion to send North Korea a clear message that its violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions have consequences," the White House said in a statement.
U.S intelligence has linked North Korea with missile shipments to Iran. Newspapers in Japan and South Korea have reported that Iranian observers were in the North for the launch, something Iran has denied.
Japan's likely next prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who is leading in opinion polls ahead of an election on Dec. 16 and who is known as a North Korea hawk, called on the United Nations to adopt a resolution "strongly criticising" Pyongyang.
China had expressed "deep concern" prior to the launch which was announced a day after a top politburo member, representing new Chinese leader Xi Xinping, met Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang.
On Wednesday its tone was measured, regretting the launch but calling for restraint on possible counter-measures, in line with previous policy when it has effectively vetoed tougher sanctions.
"China believes the Security Council's response should be cautious and moderate, protect the overall peaceful and stable situation on the Korean peninsula, and avoid an escalation of the situation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told journalists.