North Korea Fueling Rocket as Launch Window Opens
North Korea on Thursday defied world pressure to back down from a controversial ballistic missile launch and said it was fueling the rocket for a landmark anniversary.
North Korea has scheduled the launch in a five-day window starting Thursday, saying the "historic" launch will be the centerpiece of celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-sung on April 15.
The rocket is ostensibly designed to put an observation satellite into orbit, but the United States and allies say it is in fact a ballistic missile test by the nuclear-armed state in violation of a United Nations ban.
The anniversary will celebrate the family dynasty that has ruled the impoverished nation since 1948 and cement the power of the founder's grandson Kim Jong-un, who took over after his own father Kim Jong-il died in December.
As the launch window opened Thursday morning, the world began watching the reclusive, nuclear-armed nation for developments on the launch site, but no activity was reported amid prevailing bad weather.
However, officials in Pyongyang said launch preparations were proceeding apace.
"We are injecting fuel as we speak. It has started (and it) will be over in the near future," Korea's mission control center director Paek Chang-Ho told reporters.
"The launch of the satellite this time will be successful because Comrade Kim Jong-un is guiding us through the launch step by step, and gives us personal guidance," he said.
The same mission control was used when North Korea last said it placed a satellite in orbit, in 2009. Foreign experts said no satellite was detected in orbit and called that exercise a disguised ballistic missile test.
The 2009 launch was followed by a nuclear test, and the West fears the same pattern is being repeated as the communist state tries to perfect dual-use technology that can double for intercontinental missiles.
North Korea has rejected criticism that the launch of the Unha-3 (Galaxy 3) rocket could feed its hungry people for a year.
International leaders have urged North Korea to cancel the imminent rocket launch, but Pyongyang has refused to back down, insisting that the operation is for peaceful purposes.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said that the G8 had a "strong interest" in seeking stability on the Korean Peninsula, as she reiterated that the launch "violates multiple UN resolutions."
US Pacific Command head Adm. Samuel Locklear said Wednesday that North Korea over time has pursued "increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile defense technologies."
Any potential increase in North Korea's missile range "will be a concern for the alliance, a concern for the region as well as a concern for the United States," Locklear said.
Germany on Wednesday described the planned launch as a "clear provocation."
Before the anniversary, tens of thousands have been preparing Pyongyang as the government's propaganda machine rallies the people behind Kim Jong-un, who is in his late 20s.
An annual session of parliament will be held Friday. Legislators could elevate him to his father's old post, chairman of the all-powerful National Defense Commission.
North Korea also announced Wednesday the appointment of a new armed forces minister, Kim Jong-Gak, in what analysts said was a sign the new leader was installing close confidantes in key posts.