The Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea defied international warnings and fired a long-range rocket today, a clear sign Pyongyang is pushing forward with its quest to develop the technology needed to deliver a nuclear warhead.

The White House reacted immediately, calling it a "highly provocative act."

State media claimed North Korea had successfully put a peaceful satellite into orbit with its long-range Unha-3 rocket, the North's stated goal. South Korea and Japan said they couldn't confirm that but, in Washington, the Pentagon said an object appeared to achieve orbit.

The launch was something of a surprise, as North Korea had indicated technical problems with the rocket and extended its launch window to Dec. 29.

The UN, Washington, Seoul and others see the launch as a cover for a test of technology for missiles that could be used to strike the United States.

A South Korean spokesman said the first stage fell into the Yellow Sea and the rocket flew over a South Korean island near North Korea. The rocket was then seen west of Okinawa.

Japan protested the launch and said a part of the rocket landed west of the Korean peninsula. The Philippines said another part landed east of that nation. Tokyo requested immediate consultations within the UN Security Council.

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