Japan military on alert over North Korea's planned rocket launch

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NTP: Japan military on alert over North Korea's planned rocket launch
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Japan military on alert over North Korea's planned rocket launch
In this undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed in Tokyo by the Korea News Service on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, accompanied by military officers, inspects air drill at an undisclosed airbase in North Korea. (AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service) JAPAN OUT UNTIL 14 DAYS AFTER THE DAY OF TRANSMISSION
A Japan Self-Defense Force member stands by a PAC-3 Patriot missile unit deployed for North Korea's rocket launch at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. Japan's Defense Ministry installed missile interceptors at their headquarters in central Tokyo on Friday amid signs that North Korea may be preparing to launch a rocket or missile. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
A PAC-3 missile launcher is deployed on the grounds of the defence ministry in Tokyo on January 29, 2016. Japan had ordered on January 29 its military to be ready to destroy any missile fired by North Korea that threatens the country as concerns mount that Pyongyang is preparing a rocket launch. AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS JAPAN OUT / AFP / JIJI PRESS / JIJI PRESS (Photo credit should read JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 30 : Patriot PAC-3 missile batteries is seen is the courtyard of the Japan Defense Ministry as Japan armed is in on high alert after satellite images showed North Korea was preparing to test launch a long-range missile. Japan's defence minister Gen Nakatani has ordered to target and shoot down any North Koreas rmissile threaten Japan territory. (Photo by David Mareuil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Japan Self-Defense Force member walks past a PAC-3 Patriot missile unit deployed for North Korea's rocket launch at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. Japan's Defense Ministry installed missile interceptors at their headquarters in central Tokyo on Friday amid signs that North Korea may be preparing to launch a rocket or missile. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 30 : Security police stand guard at the entrance of the North Korea building in Tokyo, Japan, on January 30, 2016. Japan armed is in on high alert after satellite images showed North Korea was preparing to test launch a long-range missile. (Photo by David Mareuil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 30 : A Japanese soldier is seen close a Patriot PAC-3 missile batterie systeme control in the courtyard of the Japan Defense Ministry, on January 30, 2016, as Japan armed is in on high alert after satellite images showed North Korea was preparing to test launch a long-range missile. Japan's defence minister Gen Nakatani has ordered to target and shoot down any North Koreas rmissile threaten Japan territory. (Photo by David Mareuil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Soldiers walk beside PAC-3 missile launchers as they are seen in position on the grounds of the defence ministry in Tokyo on January 30, 2016. Japan had ordered on January 29 its military to be ready to destroy any missile fired by North Korea that threatens the country as concerns mount that Pyongyang is preparing a rocket launch. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / AFP / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
Japan Self-Defense Force's PAC-3 Patriot missile unit deployed for North Korea's rocket launch at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. Japan's Defense Ministry installed missile interceptors at their headquarters in central Tokyo on Friday amid signs that North Korea may be preparing to launch a rocket or missile. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 30 : Security police stand guard at the entrance of the North Korea building in Tokyo, Japan, on January 30, 2016. Japan armed is in on high alert after satellite images showed North Korea was preparing to test launch a long-range missile. (Photo by David Mareuil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 30 : Security police stand guard at the entrance of the North Korea building in Tokyo, Japan, on January 30, 2016. Japan armed is in on high alert after satellite images showed North Korea was preparing to test launch a long-range missile. (Photo by David Mareuil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 30 : Japan Defense Ministry building is seen in Tokyo, Japan, on January 30, 2016, as Japan armed is in on high alert after satellite images showed North Korea was preparing to test launch a long-range missile. Japan's defence minister Gen Nakatani has ordered to target and shoot down any North Koreas rmissile threaten Japan territory. (Photo by David Mareuil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A man walks past a PAC-3 Patriot missile unit deployed for North Korea's rocket launch at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. Japan's Defense Ministry installed missile interceptors at their headquarters in central Tokyo on Friday amid signs that North Korea may be preparing to launch a rocket or missile. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
A PAC-3 missile launcher is seen in position on the grounds of the defence ministry in Tokyo on January 30, 2016. Japan had ordered on January 29 its military to be ready to destroy any missile fired by North Korea that threatens the country as concerns mount that Pyongyang is preparing a rocket launch. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / AFP / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
A guard rides a bicycle past a PAC-3 Patriot missile unit deployed for North Korea's rocket launch at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. Japan's Defense Ministry installed missile interceptors at their headquarters in central Tokyo on Friday amid signs that North Korea may be preparing to launch a rocket or missile. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
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SEOUL/TOKYO, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Japan put its military on alert on Wednesday to shoot down any North Korean rocket that threatens it, while South Korea warned the North it would pay a "severe price" if it goes ahead with a satellite launch that South Korea considers a missile test.

North notified U.N. agencies on Tuesday of its plan to launch what it called an "earth observation satellite" some time between Feb. 8 and 25.

North Korea has said it has a sovereign right to pursue a space program by launching rockets, although the United States and other governments suspect that such launches are in reality tests of its missiles.

"We have defenses ready to deal with all threats, but in view of the announcement I have put the Self Defense Force's Aegis destroyers and our PAC-3 units on alert and issued an order to shoot down any ballistic missile threat," Japan's defense minister, Gen Nakatani, told media briefing.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would work with the United States and others to "strongly demand" that North Korea refrain from what he described as a planned missile launch.

Tension rose in East Asia last month after North Korea's fourth nuclear test, this time of what it said was a hydrogen bomb.

A rocket launch coming so soon after the nuclear test would raise concern that North Korea plans to fit nuclear warheads on its missiles, giving it the capability to launch a strike against South Korea, Japan and possibly targets as far away as the U.S. West Coast.

North Korea last launched a long-range rocket in December 2012, sending an object it described as a communications satellite into orbit.

South Korea said the North should immediately call off the launch, which is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, the South's presidential Blue House said in a statement.

"North Korea's notice of the plan to launch a long-range missile, coming at a time when there is a discussion for Security Council sanctions on its fourth nuclear test, is a direct challenge to the international community," the Blue House said.

"We strongly warn that the North will pay a severe price ... if it goes ahead with the long-range missile launch plan," it said.

'EXTREMELY CONCERNED'

China, under U.S. pressure to use its influence to rein in the isolated North, said North Korea's right to space exploration was restricted under U.N. resolutions.

China is North Korea's sole main ally though China disapproves of its nuclear program.

"We are extremely concerned about this," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a briefing.

"In the present situation, we hope North Korea exercises restraint on the issue of launching satellites, acts cautiously and does not take any escalatory steps that may further raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula."

Reports of the planned launch drew fresh U.S. calls for tougher U.N. sanctions that are already under discussion in response to North Korea's Jan. 6 nuclear test.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the United Nations needed to "send the North Koreans a swift, firm message."

A spokeswoman for the International Maritime Organization, a U.N. agency, said the agency had been told by North Korea it planned to launch the "Kwangmyongsong" satellite.

North Korea said the launch would be conducted in the morning one day during the announced period, and notified the coordinates for the locations where the rocket boosters and the cover for the payload would drop.

Those locations are expected to be in the Yellow Sea off the Korean peninsula west coast and in the Pacific Ocean to the east of the Philippines, Pyongyang said.

South Korea told commercial airliners to avoid flying in areas of the rocket's possible flight path during the period.

The launch is likely to be from the North's Tongchang-ri station near the Chinese border.

U.S. officials said last week North Korea was believed to be preparing for a test launch of a long-range rocket, after activity at the site was observed by satellite.

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