Sun, Apr 05, 2009 - Page 1 News List

North Korea keeps world guessing on satellite launch

ON EDGE A Japanese government crisis center announced yesterday that the satellite had been launched, but retracted the statement five minutes later

AFP , SEOUL

North Korea kept the world guessing yesterday as the first day of a scheduled five-day satellite launch period passed without blast-off.

Officials in Seoul and Tokyo speculated that adverse weather caused Pyongyang to delay what the US and its regional allies see as a disguised ballistic missile test.

“The prediction of a launch today had seemed quite plausible but the weather conditions seemingly were not that good at the launch base,” an unidentified official told Yonhap news agency.

In Tokyo, senior Cabinet official Kyoji Yanagisawa said: “We can imagine strong winds or some troubles with equipment, but we have no information at all.”

South Korea’s weather agency said skies over the site were cloudy yesterday, with winds that would abate today.

Yonhap, quoting a government source, said workers had installed cameras at the site and repeatedly opened and closed the cover atop the three-stage rocket.

Nerves were fraying in Japan, which is under the projected flight path. A government crisis center announced at 12:16pm that the rocket was believed to have been launched, but five minutes later retracted its statement as incorrect. The country heaved a sigh of relief.

Pyongyang last month notified world aviation and shipping agencies it would fire the rocket sometime between yesterday and Wednesday between 11am and 4pm. It has said the rocket’s first stage will fall in the sea 75km west of Japan and that the second stage will plunge into the Pacific.

US President Barack Obama urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s regime to hold back.

“We have made very clear to the North Koreans that their missile launch is provocative,” he said on Friday in Strasbourg, France. “Should North Korea decide to take this action, we will work with all interested parties in the international community to take appropriate steps to let North Korea know that it can’t threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity.”

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