SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea's much hyped long-range rocket launch on Friday ended in apparent failure, South Korean officials said, dealing a blow to the prestige of the reclusive and impoverished state that defied international pressure to push ahead with the plan.
North Korea said it wanted the Unha-3 rocket to put a weather satellite into orbit, although critics believed it was designed to enhance the capacity of North Korea to design a ballistic missile deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States.
A spokesman for the Defence Ministry in Seoul told journalists that the rocket had broken up and crashed into the sea a few minutes after launch.
Officials from Japan confirmed the mission had failed, while ABC News cited U.S. officials saying it had failed, although there was no immediate indication of where it fell.
The rocket's flight was set to take it over a sea separating the Korean peninsula, with an eventual launch of a third stage of the rocket in seas near the Philippines that would have put the satellite into orbit.
This was North Korea's second consecutive failure to get a satellite into orbit, although it claimed success with a 2009 launch and there was no comment on the launch from North Korea's official media.
The Unha-3 rocket took off from a new launch site on the west coast of North Korea, near the Chinese border.
The launch had been timed to coincide with the 100th birthday celebrations of the isolated and impoverished state's founder, Kim Il-sung, and came after a food aid deal with the United States had hinted at an easing of tensions on the world's most militarised border.
Additional reporting by TOKYO newsroom; Writing by David Chance and Jonathan Hopfner; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan