Tense moments as North Korean rocket flew over Japan
Belgian Foreign Minister joins others in roundly condemning the launch of a rocket over Japanese airspace.
TOKYO, April 5, 2009 (AFP) - For several tense minutes North Korea's rocket sped through the skies over Japan, but the Japanese did not try to shoot it down -- a move Pyongyang had warned would amount to an act of war.
Japan had taken the unusual step of authorising its military in advance to intercept any bit of the rocket that threatened to hit its territory, but those few moments of drama came and went with no confrontation.
The government said the boosters of the North Korean rocket plopped harmlessly into the waters off Japan's coasts just as Pyongyang had said they would -- letting many here breathe a sigh of relief.
"I really feel relieved after several restless days," said Yuri Saito, the 24-year-old daughter of a fisherman. "My father went out to sea even today, and I was glad to receive a radio call from him just now to confirm he's safe."
Japan had deployed destroyers equipped with anti-missile Aegis systems, awaiting the launch of what Tokyo, Seoul and Washington had said would really be an illegal test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The rocket blasted off from the North around 0230 GMT. Seven minutes later, the first booster stage was believed to have dropped into the waters of the Sea of Japan (East Sea) off the country's northwest coast.
After flying over Japan, the rocket then dropped its second booster stage into the Pacific Ocean about 1,270 kilometres (800 miles) from Japanese land at about 0243 GMT, the country's Crisis Management Centre said.
All in all, the rocket was over Japanese land for less than six minutes.
Pyongyang later claimed the rocket's satellite payload had successfully entered orbit, where it was broadcasting songs in praise of the nation's past and present leaders.
Japan held its fire when the rocket passed -- but its leaders later launched angry salvos over the launch, carried out despite repeated pleas from the United States, South Korea and Japan to call it off.
Prime Minister Taro Aso was scathing about the launch, speaking to reporters after a government security council meeting.
"Despite repeated warnings from all over the world -- especially from the United States and South Korea, not to mention Japan -- North Korea has carried out a launch," he told reporters.
"It is an extremely provocative action. Japan can never overlook it."
The UN Security Council was to meet later on Sunday on Tokyo's and Washington's request, while Japan's diplomats sprang into action.
Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone also spoke with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and their South Korean and Chinese counterparts.
Japan's chief government spokesman said Tokyo was set to extend its sanctions against the regime by a year later this month -- including bans on North Korean imports, citizens' visits and port calls by its ships.
Ruling party lawmakers have also proposed in recent days toughening the sanctions in case of a launch, possibly by banning all Japanese exports and further restricting financial transactions to the communist state.
The North fired a shorter-range Taepodong-1 over Japan in 1998 as part of a failed satellite launch. It also fired a longer-range Taepodong-2 in 2006 but that test failed, and the missile exploded after 40 seconds.
“North Korea has broken its word”
The Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht (Flemish Liberal) has accused the North Koreans of breaching agreements with the international community on the noe-proliferation of nuclear weapons. North Korea defied international warnings and went ahead with a controversial rocket launch early on Sunday morning.
North Korean state media reported that a satellite had been put into orbit and was transmitting data and revolutionary songs.
However, sources in South Korea and the United States say that the launch was unsuccessful.
Two stages of the rocket and its payload landed in the Pacific Ocean, a US military statement said.
The United States, Japan and South Korea suspect the launch was a smoke-screen for a long-range missile test.
Speaking on VRT radio the Belgian Foreign Minister said that he hoped that the UN Security Council would put pressure on the North Koreans when it meets on Sunday evening.
However, this would depend on the position taken by China.
He went on to accuse the North Koreans of breaching earlier agreements on nuclear non-proliferation.