Japan, Philippines on alert ahead of N. Korean launch

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Thursday that the country was on full alert over North Korea's planned rocket launch, expected at any time over the coming days.

"We want to seek their self-restraint until the last minute," Noda told reporters as he arrived for talks with a special taskforce set up to handle Japan's response to the planned launch.

"But we want to be fully prepared for any possible contingency," Noda said.

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Poor but nuclear-armed North Korea has said it plans to launch a satellite between Thursday and Monday to mark the centenary of the birth of late founding president Kim Il-Sung.

Western critics see the launch as a thinly veiled missile test banned by UN Security Council resolutions.

Tokyo has deployed missile defence systems to intercept and destroy the rocket if it looks set to fall on Japan, much as it did in 2009 before Pyongyang's last long-range rocket launch.

On Thursday, Japan's lower house of parliament unanimously adopted a resolution that demanded Pyongyang stop the planned launch.

"(The launch) can never be permissible as it is an act of destroying peace and stability not only in Japan but also in northeast Asia," it said.

The Philippine government has ordered flights to divert to avoid being in the area where debris might fall, the head of air traffic control said.

From April 12 to 16, about 20 flights a day will be affected by the order, said Michael Mapanao, head of the aviation authority's air traffic control department.

"They will have to go around to clear the airspace. It will add additional minutes to their flying time," he said.

Philippines civil defence chief Benito Ramos has also ordered shipping to avoid the area where rocket debris is expected to fall, with the police, coast guard and navy all enforcing the ban.

"There are no more people in the exclusion zone," he said.

He brushed aside complaints that the government was overreacting to the rocket launch.

"It is better to be overreacting than not to be reacting when something happens," he told ABS-CBN television.

On Japan's Ishigaki island in the southern Okinawan archipelago, which lies right below the announced trajectory of the rocket, city officials went on standby at 6:00 am Thursday (2100 GMT Wednesday), an hour before the five-day launch window opened.

"We will continue this standby condition every day from 6:00 am to 2:00 pm until Monday," Ishigaki city official Choichi Ameku said, referring to the time of day North Korea is expected to schedule the launch.

Residents have been told to take shelter in buildings as soon as the rocket is launched and not to approach any debris that appears to have fallen from the rocket as it could be highly toxic, officials said.

The Japanese government has told residents to "carry on their normal daily lives" but to reschedule athletics events for school children from the morning to the afternoon, Ishigaki's education official Akira Sakiyama said.

"So far, residents are going about their business as usual," he added.

© 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Apr 12, 2012