North Korea Fueling Rocket As Planned Launch Draws Close

North Korea has announced it has started fueling its rocket ahead of a planned launch that has attracted widespread criticism from across the globe.

Fueling for the launch, which is expected to take place between April 12 – 16, was confirmed to visiting foreign journalists by Paek Chang-ho, head of the satellite control centre of the Korean Committee of Space Technology. Paek said:

“We are injecting fuel as we speak. It has started. And as for the exact timing of the launch, it will be decided by my superiors.”

Critics from Washington to Seoul fear that the launch is a test of long-range missile technology that could ultimately reach cities in the U.S., but North Korea claims it is aiming to launch a satellite to advance its space programme.

South Korea and Japan have both threatened to shoot the rocket down if it passes over their territory, an act North Korea says would be “a declaration of war.” Meanwhile, the Philippines has re-routed air and sea traffic.

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Even China, a rare ally of the hermit state that usually quietly tolerates the North, has spoken out against the launch. Beijing says it will raise tensions in the region.

News of the rocket’s imminent launch comes as the Worker’s Party promoted new leader Kim Jong-un to “first secretary.” His father, the late Kim Jong-il, has been declared North Korea’s “general secretary for eternity,” despite passing away in December 2011.

The launch is set to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s late leader, Kim Il-sung. Across the country, festivities are planned in the build-up to Kim Il-sung’s commemoration on Sunday.