Page last updated at 07:59 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

North Korea fuels missile rumours

An undated photo of North Korean missile test
North Korea has tested short, medium and long-range missiles in the past

North Korea has asserted its right to "space development", amid speculation that it plans to launch a missile test.

In state media, it accused countries of trying to block its "peaceful research" and said: "One will come to know later what will be launched."

Experts say "space development" has been used before for a rocket launch.

North Korea denied it was seeking attention, as Hillary Clinton begins a visit to the region as US President Barack Obama's secretary of state.

Speculation that North Korea is preparing to test a long-range missile has persisted for two weeks, following surveillance reports of long objects being moved towards the coast and of Chinese ships vacating the area.

Kim birthday

The latest comments from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) coincided with official birthday celebrations for Mr Kim, who is thought to have suffered a debilitating stroke last August.


Birthday celebrations for Kim Jong-il

Mr Kim's apparent ill-health has sparked deepening concerns about succession in the reclusive nuclear state.

On his 67th birthday, state media hailed Mr Kim as a "heaven-made commander and an affectionate father who safeguards and illuminates the fate of our nation".

His return to active politics, confirmed by a visiting Chinese diplomat in January, has been accompanied by heightened North Korean bellicosity, analysts said.

Reports citing intelligence from satellite photos have said preparations at the Musudan-ri launch site on the north-east coast are well advanced.

But KCNA said rumours of a planned test launch of the long-range Taepodong-2 missile came from "hostile forces".

"This is a vicious trick to put a brake on the wheel of not only the DPRK's [North Korea's] building of military capability for self-defence but also scientific researches for peaceful purpose," it said.

"Space development is the independent right of the DPRK."

"The DPRK has no need to draw anyone's attention and wants nobody to interfere or meddle in the issue of the Korean peninsula where only the Koreans live."

Nuclear disarmament talks involving the United States, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea are currently stalled.

Relations between North and South Korea are at a new low after the North scrapped several peace agreements and the South appointed a hard-line unification minister.

Hillary Clinton, who this week makes her first Asian tour as US secretary of state, urged the communist state to avoid provocation and stop "unhelpful rhetoric" towards South Korea.

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