NORTH Korea is gearing up to fire a long-range rocket this month in a defiant move expected to raise the stakes in a global standoff over its missile and nuclear programmes.
The North's announcement that it would launch the rocket between December 10 and 22 came as President Barack Obama prepares for his second term, and as South Korea holds a presidential election on December 19.
It would be North Korea's second launch attempt under leader Kim Jong Un, who took power following his father Kim Jong Il's death nearly a year ago. Some analysts have expressed scepticism that North Korea has corrected whatever caused the embarrassing misfire of its last rocket eight months ago. A spokesman for North Korea's Korean Committee for Space Technology, however, said scientists have "analysed the mistakes" made in the failed April launch and improved the precision of its Unha rocket and Kwangmyongsong satellite.
The statement said the launch was a request of late leader Kim Jong Il. The space agency said the rocket would be mounted with a polar-orbiting Earth observation satellite, and maintained its right to develop a peaceful space programme.
Washington considers North Korea's rocket launches to be covers for tests of technology for long-range missiles designed to strike the US, and such tests are banned by the UN.