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Friday, April 13, 2012

SDF, leaders on 24-hour alert for North's rocket launch


By MASAMI ITO and JUN HONGO
Staff writers

Japan and its missile defense system remained on high alert Thursday as the first day of North Korea's launch window for what is believed to be a long-range ballistic missile test passed without incident.

North Korea said it will launch the rocket by sometime between 7 a.m. and noon Monday. It says the rocket will put a satellite into orbit, but other nations suspect it is really a military test.

The government has set up a special task force at the crisis management center in the prime minister's office, where officials are collecting and analyzing information on the launch.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said in the morning that the government was on "24-hour" alert.

"We are prepared. We must be ready for any possibility of an unpredictable event," Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka added.

Tanaka arrived before 7 a.m. at the Defense Ministry, where a Patriot antiballistic missile battery has been deployed to shoot down the rocket or any debris if it deviates from its announced course over Okinawa Prefecture.

"The Defense Ministry is working closely under my order to properly handle the situation," Tanaka said.

In the afternoon, Gen. Shigeru Iwasaki, the highest ranking officer in the Self-Defense Forces, gave more reassurances on the grand military display.

"We are set up and ready to take on the situation whenever the launch takes place" the chief of staff said, adding that the SDF is coordinating closely with the U.S. military.

Iwasaki declined to give his opinion on why Pyongyang hadn't hit the launch button yet.

"They probably had their reasons, but we haven't figured out the specific cause. We can only guess" at this point, he said.

If the launch goes ahead, Japan is prepared to urge the members of the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution against North Korea.

"I would like to seek (North Korea's) self-restraint till the last minute, but I will take all possiblemeasures to be fully prepared in case of an emergency," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in the morning.

Meanwhile, speculation was rife that Pyongyang is also close to conducting a new nuclear experiment, a pattern that was repeated after the rocket launches of 2006 and 2009.

"We absolutely cannot tolerate any additional form of provocation by North Korea," Fujimura said. "We will continue to work in close cooperation with other countries to observe the situation closely."



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