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North Korea fires long-range rocket, defying international warnings

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PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) - North Korea's widely condemned rocket splintered into pieces over the Yellow Sea soon after takeoff Friday, an embarrassing end to a launch that Pyongyang had infused with national pride during a week of high-level political meetings and celebrations.

A crowd of media gathers near North Korea's Unha-3 rocket. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

Within minutes of the early morning launch, the United States and South Korea declared it a failure.

North Korea acknowledged that hours later in an announcement broadcast on state TV, saying the satellite that the rocket was carrying had been unable to enter into orbit.

World leaders were swift to denounce the launch, calling it a covert test of missile technology and a flagrant violation of international resolutions prohibiting North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programs.

The rocket's destruction suggests the country has yet to master the technology needed to build long-range missiles that could threaten the United States.

Still, worries remain about North Korea's nuclear program amid reports that it may be planning an atomic test soon.

The launch is also a setback for the government of new leader Kim Jong Un, which had projected the satellite as a show of strength amid persistent economic hardship while he solidifies power following the death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, four months ago.

The foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized nations meeting in Washington, including Russia, condemned the launch.

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