North Korea crossed a "major threshold" towards developing a nuclear missile capable of striking the US when it successfully launched a rocket into space.
The UN Security Council "condemned" the missile test after meeting in emergency session last night.
The US led the denunciation of the unexpected launch of the Unha-3 rocket, calling it a "highly provocative act".
By conducting the test, North Korea has broken UN Resolution 1874, which bans the regime from conducting "any launch using ballistic missile technology".
Debris from the first stage of the launch fell into the sea off the South Korean coast.
The US and Asian governments believe that North Korea's space programme is a cover for the development of long-range ballistic missiles that could ultimately carry nuclear warheads. The country already has a small arsenal of nuclear bombs, testing devices in 2006 and 2009.
But its scientists are not yet able to make nuclear warheads for missiles.
Experts believe these tests will help North Korea to master the technology needed for nuclear-armed missiles, with ranges of about 5,000 miles – sufficient to hit the US.
"They still have other technological thresholds to cross, but this was undeniably a major one," said Victor Cha, a Korea specialist at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
The regime had refrained from trumpeting the test in advance, probably because the last time it did so in April, the rocket plunged into the sea 90 seconds after lift off.
An official statement said that North Korea had exercised the "independent right to use space for peaceful purposes" by placing a satellite into an orbit.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, denounced North Korea's action.
Even China, North Korea's only significant ally, voiced "regret" that the country had carried out the test.
But Iran offered congratulations to the "people and the government" of North Korea on "the successful launching of the satellite-carrying rocket". (© Daily Telegraph, London)