Developing

North Korea Displays Rocket Ahead Of Launch

North Korea is preparing a long-range rocket for launch, defying international warnings against violating a ban on missile activity.

Pyongyang said last month it would launch what it claims is an observation satellite, the Kwangmyongsong-3 (Shining Star), using a three-stage rocket during celebrations for the 100th anniversary of North Korean founder Kim Il-Sung's birth.

Experts say the launch of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket, which is expected to take place between April 12 and 16, may also be used to test long-range missile technology, which could then be used in possible attacks on neighbouring states.

Fifty foreign journalists have been allowed to see the rocket on its launchpad at a new space centre built on the Cholsan peninsula, in the northwest of the country, 30 miles from the Chinese border.

It is 30 metres high, with a diameter of 2.5 metres.

The country has also invited foreign observers to see the launch - for which it has not given an exact date, but Kim Il-Sung's birthday was on April 15.

The US, Japan, Britain and other nations have urged the hardline state to cancel the launch, warning that firing the long-range rocket would violate UN resolutions and break North Korea's promise to refrain from engaging in nuclear and missile activity.

In response to the planned launch, Japan , which has a tense relationship with North Korea, is deploying an anti-missile system on its southern islands of Okinawa, close to China .

The country has also moved missiles into place to protect Tokyo. Japan has mobilised three Aegis ballistic missile defence ships and eight Patriot missile batteries.

Japan and South Korea have said they are prepared to shoot down any parts of the rocket that threaten to fall in their territory - a move North Korea's foreign ministry warned would be considered a declaration of war.

Pyongyang has insisted the launch is a scientific achievement intended to improve the nation's faltering economy by providing detailed surveys of the countryside.

"Our country has the right and also the obligation to develop satellites and launching vehicles," Jang Myong Jin, general manager of the launch facility, said during a tour, citing the UN space treaty.

"No matter what others say, we are doing this for peaceful purposes."

Even Beijing, which props up the regime with aid, has said it is troubled by North Korea's plan and has urged more diplomacy.

There are also heightened fears that Kim Jong-Un's newly formed administration could try to throw its weight around with a third nuclear weapons test.

The North, which is believed to have enough plutonium for six to eight bombs, tested atomic weapons in October 2006 and May 2009.

Both were held one to three months after missile tests.

According to news agency AFP, preparations may be under way in the northeastern town of Punggye-ri, where the North carried out the two previous nuclear tests.