N. Korea injects fuel into rocket, holds key conference
A South Korean military official said the fuel injection has been detected, a process that could take about four hours.
"I think the fuel injection will be completed at an appropriate date," Paek Chang-ho, head of the satellite control center of the Korean
Committee of Space Technology, told a group of visiting foreign journalists in Pyongyang, the Reuters news agency reported.
Paek said the exact timing of the launch will be decided by his superiors, and he would not comment on when the fuel injection would be complete, according to Reuters.
The North has said that the launch set for sometime between Thursday and next Monday is designed to put an earth observation satellite into orbit, a move widely seen as a pretext to disguise a banned test of its ballistic missile technology.
"We believed that the North could launch the rocket on Saturday" on the eve of the centennial birth celebrations of the country's late founder
Kim Il-sung, an intelligence official said.
Still, the official also said "the launch is possible" on Thursday, noting a decisive factor is weather conditions around the launch pad in the country's northwest.
South Korea and the United States strengthened surveillance on North Korea and prepared to track the rocket's path by deploying a reconnaissance plane and Aegis destroyers.
South Korea plans to make efforts to recover the rocket's first-stage booster by dispatching vessels near falling points of rocket fragments.
South Korea expects the rocket's first-stage booster to land in international waters, some 170 kilometers south of its southwestern city of
Gunsan, before the rocket's second stage booster falls east of the Philippines.
North Korea says it has chosen a safe trajectory to ensure rocket debris will not affect neighboring countries. However, it has threatened to immediately and mercilessly retaliate against any country that intercepts a North Korean rocket booster or collects the rocket debris.
The fuel injection coincides with the North's crucial conference of its ruling Workers' Party that is expected to offer a rare glimpse into an unfolding political drama following the December death of long-time leader Kim Jong-il.
North Korea's state media remained silent on the conference.
The Associated Press reported from Pyongyang that party delegates have convened for a special political conference.
A key issue is whether Kim's youngest son, Jong-un, will become the party's general secretary, a key post that automatically makes him chairman of the party's Central Military Commission.
The party conference and a separate parliamentary session scheduled on Friday are widely seen by experts as the last steps to complete the process to extend the Kim dynasty for a third generation.
The North has been stepping up propaganda campaigns to help boost the image and power of the new leader, the grandson of the country's founder.
North Korea's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper urged people Wednesday to unite around leader Kim Jong-un and thoroughly establish his unified command system.
"All party members and workers should deeply learn the greatness of dear respected comrade Kim Jong-un and faithfully follow his leadership," the newspaper said in an editorial.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. will take appropriate action against North Korea if it presses ahead with the rocket launch.
Clinton said the U.S. is consulting with other nations in their capitals and at the United Nations, hinting at action through the Security Council.
Clinton pressed North Korea not to conduct the launch if Pyongyang wants a "peaceful, better future" for its people. She made the comment on Tuesday after bilateral talks with her Japanese counterpart.