Isolated and impoverished North Korea launched its second long-range rocket of 2012 on Wednesday and may have finally succeeded in putting a satellite into space, the stated aim of what critics say is a disguised ballistic missile test.
The rocket was launched just before 10 a.m. Korean time (0100 GMT) and overflew the Japanese island of Okinawa.
A rocket launch by North Korea in April was aborted after a less than two minute flight. Wednesday's launch came after the North carried out repairs on the rocket, which South Korean officials said had been removed from its gantry on Monday.
United Nation Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the launch and and expressed concern that it could negatively impact prospects for peace and security in the region.
"The Secretary-General deplores the rocket launch announced by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea)," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement.
"It is a clear violation of Security Council resolution 1874, in which the Council demanded that the DPRK not conduct any launch using ballistic missile technology," the statement said.
UN Security Council diplomats said the 15-nation body would discuss the launch during a scheduled meeting on other issues that begins at 10:00 A.M. EST (1500 GMT) on Wednesday. Japan had requested a Security Council meeting on the missile launch.
Nesirky said Ban has been urging North Korea's leaders not to launch a missile but "instead to build confidence with its neighbors while taking steps to improve the lives of its people."
"The Secretary-General is concerned about the negative consequences that this provocative act may have on peace and stability in the region," the statement said, adding that Ban was in touch with "concerned" governments.
The White House also deplored the launch as a "highly provocative act" in direct violation of U.N. resolutions and vowed to work with international partners to seek "appropriate action" against Pyongyang.
"The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and fully committed to the security of our allies in the region," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said, pledging that Washington would increase close cooperation with its friends in the region.
"In the hours and days ahead, the United States will work with its six-party partners, the United Nations Security Council and other UN member states to pursue appropriate action," Vietor said. "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."
Russia expressed "deep regret" over the rocket launch, saying it increased instability in the region. The Russian Foreign Ministry called on other nations to refrain from actions that would further escalate tensions.
Both South Korea and Japan called meetings of their top security councils after the launch and Japan said it could not tolerate the action. Japanese television station NHK said the second stage of the rocket had crashed into seas off the Philippines as planned.
It was not immediately clear if the third stage carrying the satellite had made it into space.
"Whether the satellite launch (orbit) itself succeeds or not, it is a success for North Korea anyway," said Kim Young-soo, a North Korea expert at Sogang University in South Korea.
There was no immediate announcement from North Korea on the launch. It made a formal announcement when the April launch had failed, but has previously claimed that it put a satellite into space in 2009, something no one has been able to verify.
"We will convene an emergency security meeting at 10:30. The launch was made around 9:50 A.M.," an official at South Korea's presidential office in Seoul said.
The North launched the rocket close to the Dec. 17 anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong-il last year and as elections loom in South Korea and Japan.
Pyongyang says it is entitled to launch a satellite into space but critics say the rocket development is aimed at nurturing the kind of technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
North Korea is banned from conducting missile and nuclear-related tests under U.N. sanctions imposed after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.
The rocket's path was scheduled to pass between the Korean peninsula and China, with a second stage splashing down off the Philippines before launching the satellite into orbit.
Most political analysts believe the launch is designed to bolster the credentials of new leader Kim Jong-un as he cements his rule over the country of 22 million people.
A government official in Seoul said recently that the transition of power to Kim Jong-un did not appear to be going as smoothly as anticipated and there were signs that the regime was concerned over the possibility of rising dissent.
Kim is the third of his line to rule North Korea, whose national output is around one-fortieth of that of prosperous South Korea.
Plans for the launch had drawn criticism from South Korea, Russia, Japan and the United States as well as NATO and the United Nations.
The North's only major diplomatic ally, China, has expressed "deep concern" over the launch but is thought unlikely to back any further sanctions against its ally.