N Korea launches space satellite; alerts sound in S Korea, Japan
Hyonhee Shin and Chang-Ran Kim – North Korea attempted to launch what it called a space satellite over the sea to the south on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, as the nuclear-armed North seeks to gain ground in a regional space race.
The launch prompted emergency alerts and brief evacuation warnings in parts of South Korea and Japan, which were then withdrawn with no danger or damage reported.
South Korea’s military said it was still analyzing whether the launch was successful, while media in South Korea and Japan said governments there were examining the possibility that it failed. North Korean state media did not immediately report on the launch.
North Korea had said it would launch its first military reconnaissance satellite between May 31 and June 11 to boost monitoring of U.S. military activities.
It joins an increasingly heated space race in the region. South Korea last week placed satellites in orbit with a domestically designed and produced rocket for the first time, and China sent three astronauts to its now fully operational space station as part of crew rotation on Tuesday.
“Whether or not North Korea’s current satellite mission is a success, Pyongyang can be expected to issue political propaganda about its space capabilities as well as diplomatic rhetoric aimed at driving a wedge between Seoul and Tokyo,” said Leif-Eric Easley, an international studies professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
In data provided to international authorities, North Korea said the launch would carry the rocket south, with various stages and other debris expected to fall over the Yellow Sea and into the Pacific Ocean.
Air raid sirens wailed across the South Korean capital of Seoul around 6:32 a.m. as the city issued a warning asking citizens to prepare for potential evacuation. Later alerts said the city warning had been sent by mistake.