Printed on: December 13, 2012

N. Koreans hail launch of rocket


PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- In Pyongyang, North Koreans clinked beer mugs and danced in the streets to celebrate the country's first satellite in space. In Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, leaders pushed for consequences for Wednesday's successful rocket launch, widely seen as a test that takes the country one step closer to being capable of lobbing nuclear bombs over the Pacific.

The surprising, successful launch of a three-stage rocket -- similar in design to a model capable of carrying a nuclear-tipped warhead as far as California -- raises the stakes in the international standoff over North Korea's expanding atomic arsenal. As Pyongyang refines its technology, its next step may be conducting its third nuclear test, experts warn.

The U.N. Security Council, which has punished North Korea repeatedly for developing its nuclear program, condemned the launch after a closed-door meeting Wednesday and said it will urgently consider "an appropriate response." The White House called the launch a "highly provocative act that threatens regional security," and even the North's most important ally, China, expressed regret.

In Pyongyang, however, pride over the scientific advancement outweighed the fear of greater international isolation and punishment. North Korea, though struggling to feed its people, is now one of the few countries to have successfully launched a working satellite into space from its own soil. Bitter rival South Korea is not on the list, though it has tried.

"It's really good news," Jon Il Gwang said as he and scores of other Pyongyang residents poured into the streets to celebrate the launch by dancing in the snow. "It clearly testifies that our country has the capability to enter into space."