Satellite imagery appears to show North Korea well advanced in preparations for a long-range rocket launch despite international objections.
The image was taken Wednesday from a privately operated satellite, owned by US firm DigitalGlobe, and published by the website 38 North.
According to the site, it shows the beginning of North Korean preparations at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station (or Tongchang-dong Space Launch Center) for a planned April rocket launch.
That assessment is backed by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, which says the image shows trucks and fuel tanks outside two large buildings that would be used to store propellant for the rocket.
It also shows work under way at a gantry tower next to a mobile launch pad, with a crane being used to load equipment. The rocket itself is not yet visible.
"The image shows not only that the launch is going ahead but the preparations seem to be on schedule for the planned launch dates," the Associated Press quoted Joel Wit, visiting fellow at the institute and editor 38 North, as saying.
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President Barack Obama had urged North Korean leaders to abandon the rocket launch, reiterating that it was in breach of UN resolutions and of a US-North Korean deal reached last month.
The US claims the launch is a cover to test long-range missile technology.
However, the North insists it will go ahead with what it calls the peaceful launch of a scientific satellite into orbit.
Meanwhile, making good on an earlier threat, Japan's defense minister said Thursday that he had issued an order to shoot down a North Korean rocket if it falls towards Japanese territory.
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Pyongyang has informed the UN's International Maritime Organization that the second stage of the rocket is expected to fall just east of Luzon in the Philippines, according to ABS-CBN News.
However, the first stage of the rocket is expected to come down in waters west of South Korea, the Japanese government reportedly said.
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