Satellite rocket is ready for launch, says Pyongyang

Preparations for North Korea's planned satellite launch this week have been completed, according to space officials who denied it is a cover for a missile test.

Reporters in Pyongyang were told the launch of the three-stage rocket will take place between Thursday and Monday as part of centennial birthday commemorations for late President Kim Il-sung, the country's founder.

The Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite, equipped with a camera designed to capture images of North Korea's terrain and send back data about weather conditions, was being mounted on the rocket yesterday, said Ryu Kum Chol, deputy director of the Space Development Department of the Korean Committee for Space Technology.

"All the assembly and preparations of the satellite launch are done," including fuelling of the rocket, he said.

The United States, Britain and Japan are among the countries urging North Korea to cancel the launch, saying it would be considered a violation of UN resolutions prohibiting the country from nuclear and ballistic missile activity.

Meanwhile, a new report from the US-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea has estimated that more than 150,000 North Koreans are being held in a secret, Soviet-style gulag despite the communist government's denial it holds political prisoners.

The report documents the alleged incarceration of entire families, including children and grandparents, for the "political crimes" of other family members.

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