x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

North Korea fuels rocket for anniversary launch

Defying worldwide calls to back down, North Korea said yesterday it is fuelling a rocket for launch during a landmark anniversary as it gave its young leader a new title to bolster his authority.

PYONGYANG // Defying worldwide calls to back down, North Korea said yesterday it is fuelling a rocket for launch during a landmark anniversary as it gave its young leader a new title to bolster his authority.

Pyongyang has scheduled the launch in a five-day window from today.

It said the "historic" event was a centrepiece of celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-sung on Sunday.

The rocket is ostensibly designed to put an observation satellite into orbit, but the US and its allies said it is in fact a ballistic-missile test by the nuclear-capable state in violation of a United Nations ban.

The anniversary will celebrate the family dynasty which has ruled the impoverished nation since 1948 and cement the power of the founder's grandson Kim Jong-un, who took over after his father Kim Jong-il died in December.

The ruling Workers' Party, holding only its fourth special conference, yesterday conferred an apparently new title of "first secretary" on Kim Jong-un and declared his late father its "eternal" general secretary.

"The communist state has created the new title for Kim Jong-un to control the party while continuing the legacy of his father," Cheong Seong-chang of South Korea's Sejong Institute said.

Paik Hak-Soon of the same institute said the decision was "rather a smart move ... to highlight Jong-un's loyalty and love for his father and thus further legitimise his status as the latest protégé of the ruling Kim dynasty".

In Pyongyang, officials said launch preparations were proceeding swiftly.

"We are injecting fuel as we speak. It has started [and it] will be over in the near future," Paek Chang-Ho, the director of North Korea's mission control centre just outside Pyongyang, said