Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Friday, 3 April 2009 13:32 UK

N Korea 'preparing rocket launch'

Satellite image of the North Korean launch pad at the Musudan-ri base in Hwadae  (11/03/2009)
The launch pad on the north-east coast has been picked up on satellite images

North Korea is reported to be pressing ahead with final preparations for its planned satellite launch, despite stern warnings from the US and its allies.

A US defence official said there were indications the North was fuelling the rocket in a final step to the launch.

US President Barack Obama said Pyongyang should halt the expected launch, calling the move "provocative".

North Korea said it would launch a satellite between 4-8 April, but critics suspect it is a missile test.

At a news conference on Friday, Mr Obama said the threatened launch had put "enormous strains" on international talks over Pyongyang's disputed nuclear activities.

He said that the North's "unhelpful" response only added to its international isolation. He said North Korea could not threaten the "safety and security of other countries with impunity".

Before Mr Obama made his comments, the North had threatened immediate retaliation over any intervention.

Pyongyang had also warned that any attempts to impose UN sanctions would be seen as a hostile act.

Favourable weather

Last month North Korea said it had told the International Civil Aviation Organisation that it would launch the rocket only between 0200GMT and 0700GMT during the five-day launch window.

Observers say North Korea will very likely stick to this commitment, firing the rocket at the first sign of good weather conditions during the given times.

An undated photo of North Korean missile test

According to South Korean media, the forecast for Saturday is partially cloudy, but considered reasonably favourable at the moment.

Seoul's defence ministry says it has stepped up surveillance ahead of the launch.

The unification ministry, which deals with cross-border relations, urged groups and individuals to avoid travelling to a joint industrial zone in the North from Saturday.

On Thursday, the US president and his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak said a "stern, united response" would follow any rocket launch by North Korea.

South Korea and Japan also affirmed their intention to refer Pyongyang to the UN Security Council for sanctions if a launch was carried out - a move backed by the US.

President Lee said they should also try to convince China and Russia, security council members with veto power, to "join in a strong response".

Japan has said it will shoot down the rocket if it misfires and endangers Japanese territory.

North Korea's military has threatened immediate retaliation if "even the slightest effort" is made to intercept its rocket.


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