Tense minutes as North Korean rocket flew over Japan

Tense minutes as North Korean rocket flew over Japan

6th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

French foreign ministry 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.

Shingo Ito

France condemns NKorea rocket launch

PARIS - France on Sunday condemned North Korea's rocket launch, saying it threatened peace and stability in the region.

North Korea said it had put into orbit a satellite from the launch of an Unha-2 rocket at 11:20 am (0220 GMT) Sunday.

"France condemns the launch today of a device that the North Korean authorities have described as space techology," said a statement from the foreign ministry.

"We are examining, with our partners from the UN Security Council, the response that must be given to this act that threatens peace and stability in the region," it added.

France said the launch was in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1718 which bars North Korea from conducting ballistic missile-related activities.

"We reiterate that North Korea must comply with its international obligations," the foreign ministry added.

France is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council along with the United States, Russia, Britain and China.


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