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SEOUL, South Korea — Defying warnings of tougher sanctions from Washington, North Korea on Sunday launched a space rocket in a purported satellite program widely considered to be a cover for developing intercontinental ballistic missile technologies.
The rocket blasted off from Tongchang-ri, the North’s main satellite launch site near its northwestern border with China, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry, said.
The spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity until his ministry could make an official announcement, said it was not clear if the rocket launch was successful.
President Park Geun-hye of South Korea called an emergency meeting of top national security advisers on Sunday to address the launch, her office said. South Korea, the United States and Japan also requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations’ Security Council.
In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry called the launch a “major provocation, threatening not only the security of the Korean peninsula, but that of the region and the United States as well.” Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, said the launch was “a flagrant violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions.”
North Korea had earlier notified the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency responsible for navigation safety, that it planned to launch the rocket between Monday and Feb. 25 to put a satellite into orbit.
The United States and allied nations have condemned North Korea’s plan because they consider its satellite program to be a sort of cover for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that is capable of delivering a nuclear bomb.
Under a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions, North Korea is prohibited from developing nuclear weapons or ballistic-missile technologies.
The launch comes as the Chinese and South Koreans are celebrating the Lunar New Year. In South Korea, the holiday begins on Sunday and extends through Wednesday. The North’s third nuclear test, on Feb. 12, 2013, also took place near the end of that year’s Lunar New Year’s holiday.
Analysts in South Korea suggest that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, may want to show off advances in his missile and nuclear programs ahead of Feb. 16. The date marks the birthday of his father, Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011.
The birthday is regarded as a major national holiday in the North.
North Korea insists that its rocket program is peaceful, aimed at launching satellites to gather data for weather forecasting and for other scientific purposes.