SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) - North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Sunday carrying what it has said is a satellite, South Korea's defense ministry said, in defiance of United Nations sanctions barring it from using ballistic missile technology.
North Korea had notified U.N. agencies that it planned to launch a rocket carrying an Earth observation satellite, triggering opposition from governments that see it as a long-range missile test. It initially gave a Feb. 8-25 time frame for the launch but changed that to Feb. 7-14 on Saturday.
The rocket was launched on a southward trajectory, as planned, passing over Japan's southern Okinawa islands, Japan's NHK reported, and appeared to have successfully separated its first stage booster, South Korea's Yonhap reported.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the launch "absolutely unacceptable."
Last month, North Korea tested a nuclear device for the fourth time, although the United States and other governments have expressed doubt over the North's claim that it exploded a hydrogen bomb.
North Korea is believed to be working on miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to mount on a missile, but many experts say it is some time away from perfecting such technology.
It has shown off two versions of a ballistic missile resembling a type that could reach the U.S. West Coast, but there is no evidence the missiles have been tested.
Isolated North Korea says it has a sovereign right to pursue a space program. But it is barred under U.N. Security Council resolutions from using ballistic missile technology.
It last launched a long-range rocket in December 2012, sending into orbit an object it described as a communications satellite.
(Reporting by Jack Kim and Ju-min Park in Seoul and Shinichi Saoshiro and Leika Kihara in Tokyo; Editing by Tom Brown and James Dalgleish)