North Koreans hail rocket launch at mass rally

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North Koreans gathered en masse yesterday in a staged demonstration, partly to glorify Kim Jong Un and partly to celebrate the launch of a rocket which apparently put a weather monitoring satellite into orbit.

Only eight months after a very public rocket launch failure and less than a year in the job, North Korea’s young leader took a very big gamble. It paid off, at least in the short term, projecting him to his people as powerful, capable and determined.

The rest of the world saw it as a thinly disguised test of banned long-range missile technology.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Pyongyang’s snowy Kim Il Sung Square yesterday, some dancing before the rally began, continuing beer-fuelled street celebrations that started on Wednesday.

Senior officials told the people that critics abroad were characterising the launch as a missile test. Denying the claims, they urged North Koreans to stand defiant in the face of outside condemnation.

Despite the success, experts say North Korea is years from even having a shot at developing reliable missiles that could bombard the American mainland and other distant targets.

The launch, 14 years after North Korea’s first attempt, shows more than a little of the gambling spirit in the third Kim to rule North Korea since it became a country in 1948.

“North Korean officials will long be touting Kim Jong Un as a gutsy leader,” said Kim Byung-ro, a North Korea specialist at Seoul National University in South Korea.

North Korean state media said Kim himself issued the order to fire the rocket on Wednesday despite the prospect of another failure and condemnation from abroad.

He was praised for boldly carrying out his father and former leader Kim Jong Il’s last wish before his death last December.

Kim Jong Il had made development of missiles and nuclear weapons a priority despite international opposition and his nation’s crushing poverty.