North Korea plans to launch a long-range rocket this month, the isolated regime said on Saturday through its state media, a move set to sharply raise tensions in North-east Asia.

Previous tests by North Korea have been condemned as violations of UN resolutions, especially by South Korea, Japan and their ally, the United States, and punished with sanctions.

South Korea - which holds a presidential election on December 19 - immediately voiced “grave concern” about the “provocation” and warned of a “strong response” from the international community.

While much of the world suspects Pyongyang is testing ballistic missiles capable of launching nuclear warheads, Pyongyang insists it is trying to send satellites into orbit.

“The DPRK plans to launch another working satellite, second version of Kwangmyongsong-3, manufactured by its own efforts and with its own technology, true to the behests of leader Kim Jong Il,” said a report in its state-controlled KCNA news agency.

North Korea is officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and ruled by Kim Jong Un, son of the late Kim Jong Il, who died almost one year ago aged 69.

Pyongyang watchers suspect the launch will serve to commemorate the first anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death on December 17, and to bolster the status of his son and successor.

The launch window is between December 10 and 22, said KCNA.

North Korea’s last attempted launch, in April, failed when the rocket blew up shortly after take-off.

KCNA said scientists and technicians had analysed the mistakes that led to April’s failed launch, quoting officials from the Korean Committee for Space Technology.

The UN Security Council sharply condemned that launch as a breach of previous resolutions passed in the wake of the regime’s second nuclear test in May 2009.

On Friday, the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said satellite images had indicated the possibility of a new rocket launch by the regime as early as the end of next week.

The first two stages of the Unha (Galaxy) rocket - also know as Taepodong-2 - were seen on a trailer at the Sohae launch pad on North Korea’s west coast, the institute said on its website 38north.org.

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