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Saturday, April 4, 2009

North Korea defies pressure, launches rocket

SKorea regrets 'reckless' NKorea rocket launch
South Korea expressed regret Sunday over what it called a "reckless" rocket launch by North Korea. "The government cannot but express disappointment and regret over North Korea's reckless act of firing a long-range rocket, which poses a serious threat to security on the Korean peninsula and the world," said presidential spokesman Lee Dong-Kwan. "The government will deal firmly and resolutely with North Korea's provocative act," said Lee, without giving immediate details of Seoul's response. The spokesman said Seoul would also be "patient" in waiting for its communist neighbour to change its attitude.

SKorea calls emergency meeting on NKorea rocket: spokeswoman
South Korea's president called an emergency meeting of his National Security Council Sunday, a spokeswoman said, amid media reports that a rocket launch by North Korea was imminent. President Lee Myung-Bak ordered the meeting of top security officials for 11 am (0200 GMT) to discuss the planned launch, the spokeswoman said, without elaborating. Yonhap news agency earlier Sunday said the cover over the rocket's nose cone has been removed and radar systems to track its flight have been fully activated. "Given these signs, the launch looks likely to be some time today," it quoted a source as saying. The North has said it will launch a peaceful communications satellite sometime between April 4-8. The United States, Japan and South Korea say the communist state is staging a disguised test of a ballistic missile. They plan to refer it to the UN Security Council as a breach of earlier resolutions. YTN TV quoted a presidential aide as saying that if the launch goes ahead, the presidential office would issue a statement denouncing the action after the National Security Council meeting ends. It said the foreign ministry was discussing countermeasures, including South Korea's possible participation in the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative. The initiative aims to stop ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction or related cargos. North Korea says any decision by Seoul to take part in the PSI would be seen as a declaration of war.
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) April 5, 2009
North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Sunday, defying international pressure to hold back from what critics insisted would be an illicit missile test by the hardline communist country.
Japan said it did not try to intercept the rocket, a move the North had warned would be tantamount to an act of war, but that it overflew the country and reached airspace above the Pacific Ocean.

South Korea called an emergency meeting of its National Security Council, with international tensions high over the intentions of the North, which said it was peacefully testing an experimental communications satellite.

"The launch took place at 11:30:15," (0230 GMT plus 15 seconds), said Kim Eun-Hye, the spokeswoman for the South Korean presidency.

South Korea called the move "reckless," while the United States called it a "provocative act." The South said the rocket was carrying a satellite.

The United States, Japan and South Korea see the launch as violating a UN resolution passed after the North's 2006 missile and nuclear tests. They have vowed to report Pyongyang to the UN Security Council.

US, Japanese and South Korean warships with missile tracking Aegis equipment were deployed to monitor the launch, which the North insists is part of a peaceful space programme.

North Korea had said the rocket's first stage would fall in the sea 75 kilometres (about 50 miles) west of Japan, and the second stage would plunge into the Pacific.

The Japanese government said there were no reports of any damage or injuries in Japan from the launch, and that the rocket's boosters landed in the water as had been expected.

The North had earlier announced favourable weather conditions in the morning.

Analysts say North Korea wants good film footage of a launch as part of plans to maximise its propaganda value.

The regime is seen as eager to give its people news of a technological triumph to bolster support at a time of lingering uncertainty over the health of leader Kim Jong-Il.

There are widespread reports Kim suffered a stroke last August. While apparently largely recovered, the incident has raised questions about who would succeed the 67-year-old.

North Korea is also seen as trying to strengthen its hand with Washington in future nuclear disarmament negotiations. The Taepodong-2 could reach Alaska or Hawaii at maximum range, but the North is not thought to have configured a warhead for it yet.

Pyongyang has said that even a debate about its launch in the UN Security Council -- let alone any sanctions -- would cause the breakdown of long-running six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.

South Korea's Unification Minister Hyun In-Taek met his deputies to check on the safety of citizens in North Korea. Seoul has advised its roughly 580 nationals in North Korea to leave the country during the launch period.

US President Barack Obama has urged the regime to hold back, saying the North must learn that "it can't threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity."

But his special envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth has said the goal is to resume the stalled six-nation talks regardless of any launch.

The North tested a Taepodong-2 for the first time in July 2006 but it failed after 40 seconds.

earlier related report
Japan govt criticised for false alarms on NKorea launch
TOKYO, April 5, 2009 (AFP) - Japanese newspapers, analysts and opposition politicians Sunday criticised the government for two false alarms issued the day before North Korea's actual launch of a rocket.

Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada apologised Saturday for the mishaps at the central and local government levels earlier that day, admitting to "a bungled transmission of information" by ministry and armed forces personnel.

"This proved that Japan's crisis management is still in its infancy," charged Takehiko Yamamoto, international politics professor at Tokyo's Waseda University. "This is a bitter but important lesson for Japan."

The mass-circulation Asahi Shimbun newspaper blamed "heavy pressure to disclose information swiftly" but commented that "a big quick mark now hangs over the government's crisis management."

Japanese authorities had been on heightened alert since North Korea said early Saturday that preparations had been completed for a launch that, in the end, took place a day later.

Tokyo, like its allies in Washington and Seoul, believes that the launch is really a test for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Japan warned that, if the rocket or its debris threatened its territory, it will use guided missile interceptors to shoot it down -- an act that Pyongyang warned it would interpret as an act of war.

With tensions high, Japan's crisis management centre issued an urgent email alert around 24 hours before the actual launch, saying North Korea appeared to have fired the rocket, only to retract the message five minutes later.

The defence ministry later explained that officials had misinterpreted a military radar signal picked up over the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

Opposition parties also lashed out at the bungle.

"It was a disastrous blunder as it raised tensions by sending the wrong information without confirmation," said Yukio Hatoyama, secretary-general of the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan.

Regional officials in Japan's Akita prefecture, which lies under the rocket's expected trajectory, had earlier Saturday also mistakenly informed thousands of people that a rocket had been launched.

In Akita, some 100 pupils and teachers evacuated to shelters at an elementary school, while authorities' phones ran hot with citizens' queries.

Hideshi Yoshida, an official of Ogata village in Akita, said: "First of all, we need the government to send accurate information.

"This is the first such experience for the government and for the prefecture, but we can learn from this lesson.

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