North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Sunday, defying international pressure to hold back from what critics insisted would be an illicit missile test by the hardline communist country. The UN Security Council will hold an emergency session today to discuss the North Korean rocket launch, authorities said.
Japan said it did not try to intercept the rocket, a move the North had warned would be tantamount to an act of war, but that it overflew the country and reached airspace above the Pacific Ocean.
South Korea called an emergency meeting of its National Security Council, with international tensions high over the intentions of the North, which said it was peacefully testing an experimental communications satellite.
"The launch took place at 11:30:15," (0230 GMT plus 15 seconds), said Kim Eun-Hye, the spokeswoman for the South Korean presidency.
South Korea called the move "reckless," while the United States called it a "provocative act." The South said the rocket was carrying a satellite.
The United States, Japan and South Korea see the launch as violating a UN resolution passed after the North's 2006 missile and nuclear tests. They have vowed to report Pyongyang to the UN Security Council.
US, Japanese and South Korean warships with missile tracking Aegis equipment were deployed to monitor the launch, which the North insists is part of a peaceful space programme.
North Korea had said the rocket's first stage would fall in the sea 75 kilometres (about 50 miles) west of Japan, and the second stage would plunge into the Pacific.
The Japanese government said there were no reports of any damage or injuries in Japan from the launch, and that the rocket's boosters landed in the water as had been expected.
The North had earlier announced favourable weather conditions in the morning.
Analysts say North Korea wants good film footage of a launch as part of plans to maximise its propaganda value.
The regime is seen as eager to give its people news of a technological triumph to bolster support at a time of lingering uncertainty over the health of leader Kim Jong-Il.
There are widespread reports Kim suffered a stroke last August. While apparently largely recovered, the incident has raised questions about who would succeed the 67-year-old.
North Korea is also seen as trying to strengthen its hand with Washington in future nuclear disarmament negotiations. The Taepodong-2 could reach Alaska or Hawaii at maximum range, but the North is not thought to have configured a warhead for it yet.
Pyongyang has said that even a debate about its launch in the UN Security Council -- let alone any sanctions -- would cause the breakdown of long-running six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.
South Korea's Unification Minister Hyun In-Taek met his deputies to check on the safety of citizens in North Korea. Seoul has advised its roughly 580 nationals in North Korea to leave the country during the launch period.
US President Barack Obama has urged the regime to hold back, saying the North must learn that "it can't threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity."
But his special envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth has said the goal is to resume the stalled six-nation talks regardless of any launch.
The North tested a Taepodong-2 for the first time in July 2006 but it failed after 40 seconds.