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North Korea Launches Long-Range Rocket

North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Wednesday (local time), according to South Korean news sources and other media reports.

The Yonhap News Agency reports that the Japanese government says some debris from the rocket fell into waters near the Philippines. Seoul's defense ministry said that Pyongyang fired the rocket at about 9:51 a.m.

Here's more from the BBC:

This rocket was scheduled to pass between the Korean peninsula and China, with a second stage coming down off the Philippines before launching the satellite into orbit.

The launch, which defies warnings from both the U.N. and the U.S., comes just days before South Korea's presidential election.

This is the second time North Korea has attempted to launch a long-range rocket since Kim Jong Un took power in December 2011. The previous launch, in April, failed; that rocket broke up after taking off.

There was no immediate word if Wednesday's launch was successful.

North Korea says the launches are used to put satellites into space. But long-range rocket tests are seen as steps toward advancing plans for nuclear weapons that could be used to strike the U.S.

Here's more from The Associated Press:

Rocket tests are seen as crucial to advancing North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions. North Korea is thought to have only a handful of rudimentary nuclear bombs. But Pyongyang is not yet believed capable of building warheads small enough to mount on a missile that could threaten the United States.

North Korea has spent decades trying to perfect a multistage, long-range rocket. Experts say that ballistic missiles and rockets in satellite launches share similar bodies, engines and other technology. This is the fifth attempt at a long-range launch since 1998, when Pyongyang sent a rocket hurtling over Japan. Previous launches of three-stage rockets weren't considered successful.

Update at 10 p.m. ET: N. Korea Claims Test A Success

North Korea called the test a success, but that claim could not be independently verified. As recently as this week, North Korea had indicated technical problems with the rocket.

In Washington, an administration official said the U.S. was monitoring the situation.

Update at 11:20 p.m. ET U.S. Confirms

A statement from NORAD said, "Initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit."

The statement added that neither the missile nor the debris was a threat to the U.S.

Update at 12:08 a.m. ET 'Provocative Act'

In a statement, the White House called the launch a "highly provocative act" and vowed "appropriate action."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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