UPDATE 3-N.Korea plans new rocket launch as leader asserts power

* North Korea to launch satellite between Dec. 10 and Dec.

22

* US condemns what would be second 2012 launch after April

failure

* S.Korea, facing elections, calls launch "grave

provocation"

SEOUL, Dec 1 (Reuters) - North Korea said it would carry out

its second rocket launch of 2012 as its youthful leader Kim

Jong-un flexes his muscles a year after his father's death, in a

move that Sou th Korea and the United States swiftly condemned as

a provocation.

North Korea's state news agency announced the decision to

launch another space satellite on Saturday, just a day after Kim

met a senior delegation from China's Communist Party in the

North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

China, under new leadership, is North Korea's only major

political backer and has continually urged peace on the Korean

peninsula, where the North and South remain technically at war

after an armistice, rather than a peace treaty, ended the

1950-53 conflict.

No comment on the planned launch was available from

Beijing's foreign ministry.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria

Nuland condemned the launch plan as a provocative threat to the

Asia-Pacific region that would violate United Nations

resolutions imposed on Pyongyang after past missile tests.

"A North Korean 'satellite' launch would be a highly

provocative act that threatens peace and security in the

region," sh e sa id in a written statement.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said , " North Korea must

abide by its international obligations under U.N. Security

Council resolutions that clearly articulate what it can and

cannot do with respect to missile technologies."

Seoul's foreign ministry called the move a "grave

provocation." Japan's Kyodo news agency said Prime Minister

Yoshihiko Noda had ordered ministries to be on alert for the

launch.

"North Korea wants to tell China that it is an independent

state by staging the rocket launch and it wants to see if the

United States will drop its hostile policies," said Chang

Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace

Affairs at Seoul National University.

North Korea is banned from conducting missile or

nuclear-related activities under U.N. resolutions imposed after

earlier nuclear and missile tests. The country says its rockets

are used to put satellites into orbit for peaceful purposes, but

that assertion is not widely accepted outside of Pyongyang.

Washington and Seoul believe that the impoverished North is

testing long-range missile technology with the aim of developing

an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a

nuclear warhead.

Pyongyang's threats are aimed, in part, at winning

concessions and aid from Washington, analysts say.

POLITICS AND ANNIVERSARIES

The failed April rocket launch took place to celebrate the

100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea founder Kim Il

Sung and the latest test will take place close to the Dec. 17

date of the death of former leader Kim Jong-il.

It will also come as South Korea gears up for a Dec. 19

presidential election in a vote that pits a supporter of closer

engagement with Pyongyang against the daughter of South Korean

dictator Park Chung-hee.

The April test was condemned by the United Nations, although

taking action against the North is hard as China refuses to

endorse further sanctions against Pyongyang.

North Korea is already one of the most heavily sanctioned

states on earth thanks to its nuclear programme.

Pyongyang has few tools to pressure the outside world to

take it seriously due to its diplomatic isolation and its puny

economy.

The state that Kim Jong-un inherited last December after the

death of his father boasts a 1.2 million-member military, but

its population of 23 million, many malnourished, supports an

economy worth just $40 billion annually in purchasing power

parity terms, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

"The North's calculation may be that they have little to

lose by going ahead with it at this point," said Baek Seung-joo

of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul.

Baek said the test planned for December would likely be no

more successful in launching a satellite than the April one that

crashed into the sea between China and North Korea after flying

just 120 km (75 miles).

"Kim Jong-un may be taking a big gamble trying to come back

from the humiliating failure in April and in the process trying

to raise the morale for the military," Baek said.

North Korea's space agency said on Saturday that it had

worked on "improving the reliability and precision of the

satellite and carrier rocket" since April's launch.

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