North Korea prepares for rocket launch12/04/2012 - 07:58:36
North Korea was poised to send a rocket into space as the nation's young leader ascended to new top political posts, strengthening his hold on power.
There was no word on the timing of the launch, which the North has said will take place some time between today and Monday.
The launch, which the North says is for peaceful purposes, has raised international concern.
Meanwhile the nation's leader, Kim Jong Un, was named first secretary of the ruling Workers' Party, a newly-created post.
He also succeeded his late father as chairman of the Central Military Commission, which formulates the party's military policies, and was elevated to standing member of the powerful Political Bureau, the party's highest-level decision-making body.
Late long-time leader Kim Jong Il was granted the posthumous title of "eternal general secretary" at the special one-day party conference yesterday.
Kim Jong Un's formal ascension to top party posts, nearly four months after his father's death, comes during a week of events leading up to celebrations on Sunday marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, the late president Kim Il Sung.
The centennial is a major milestone in the nation Kim Il Sung founded in 1948, and the streets of the capital, Pyongyang, were awash with new posters, banners and the national flag.practising for this week's events.
North Korea has thrown open its doors to dozens of journalists from around the world to report on the events this week designed not only to honour Kim Il Sung but also to demonstrate unity as Kim Jong Un consolidates power.
One of the marquee events is the satellite launch that has raised international concern.
Space officials call the launch of the Unha-3 rocket, mounted with an Earth observation satellite, a "gift" to Kim Il Sung. They said the final step of injecting fuel into the three-stage rocket was under way in the coastal hamlet of Tongchang-ri.
"The launch of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite is the pride of our nation and of our people," Rim Kwang Myong, a mathematics major at Kim Il Sung University, said.
The planned launch was a focus of discussions among foreign ministers from the Group of Eight leading industrialised democracies.
"I think we all share a strong interest in stability on the Korean peninsula, and we will be discussing how best to achieve that as well," US secretary of state Hillary Clinton told her colleagues in Washington.
A live feed yesterday at the General Command Centre in the outskirts of Pyongyang showed the rocket on the launch pad covered with a tarp to protect the satellite from the wind.
Paek Chang Ho, chief of the command centre, said the rocket was ready for lift-off as soon as engineers were given the green light. North Korea has informed international aviation, maritime and telecommunications authorities that the launch would take place between today and Monday.
Because liquid rocket fuel is highly volatile and corrosive, its injection into the rocket is usually one of the final steps in the pre-launch process, experts say. But the weather, and particularly the wind, could force delays.
The United States, Japan, Britain and others say the launch would constitute a provocation and would violate United Nations Security Council resolutions banning North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programmes.
Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is similar to the type of rocket that could be used to fire a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead to strike the US or other targets.
Mr Paek denied that the launch was anything but a peaceful civilian bid to send a satellite into space. He said the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite was designed to send back images and data that would be used for weather forecasts and agricultural surveys.
"Some parties insist our peaceful space programme is a missile test," he told foreign reporters given an exclusive tour of the nation's main satellite command centre.
"We don't really care what the outside world thinks. This launch is critical to developing our space programme and improving our economy."
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