North Korea Launch Plan Raising Regional Tensions

South Korea is ratcheting up its criticism of its northern neighbor, as Pyongyang shows no sign of backing away from plans to conduct what it says would be its third space launch, next month.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak huddled Monday with his foreign minister and top security officials. They discussed North Korea's announcement to launch what it says will be an earth observation satellite.

South Korea presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha tells reporters Pyongyang is not fooling anyone with how it is characterizing what would clearly be another missile test.

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Park says North Korea is using ballistic missile technology to develop a long-distance delivery system for nuclear weapons. Thus, its so-called satellite launch would be a grave provocation.

The launch is raising additional concerns because of North Korea's notification that the rocket's propulsion stage is to fall into open waters just 140 kilometers off South Korea's west coast. (The second stage, Pyongyang informed the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization, is to drop 190 kilometers east of the Philippines). But aeronautical engineers express concern, given North Korea's lack of experience with long-range launches, that it could veer off its planned trajectory.

Japanese officials are asserting they could shoot down the rocket if it soars above their air space.

Even North Korea's significant ally, China, is expressing rare disapproval with Pyongyang. Beijing says it is concerned about the launch's potential to disrupt regional peace and security.

Meanwhile, North Korea is rejecting international pressure not to proceed with the launch. It says it has a legitimate right, as a sovereign country, to put into orbit scientific satellites.

On its Sunday evening newscast, North Korea's state-run television interviewed students at Kim Chaek University of Technology about the launch.

Student Hwang Chung Hyuk says he cannot relax anticipating the upcoming event.

Hwang hails the technological advancement made by other young people and he resolves to build successor satellites with his own hands.

Friday, North Korea announced it will launch an Unha-3 rocket between April 12th and 16th to carry into space the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite.  The launch is to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country's founder, Kim Il Sung.

Other countries say that would violate United Nations resolutions banning North Korea from use of ballistic missile technology.

Pyongyang conducted a long-range missile test in 2009 that it claimed successfully placed a satellite into orbit. It held its second nuclear test that same year. Both events prompted widespread condemnation of the impoverished and isolated country.

Space industry analysts say both of North Korea's previous space launch attempts were failures.

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