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South Korea, neighbors on full alert over N.K. rocket

The South Korean government is on full alert to take quick and effective measures in response to an imminent rocket launch by North Korea, government officials said.

“The government issued guidelines to strengthen office discipline to prevent any damage to South Korean citizens and to take quick measures in case North Korea launches a long-range missile,” a government official said.

A U.S. official said Wednesday in Washington that the foreign ministers of the Group of Eight major economies will issue a formal document on North Korea’s impending ballistic rocket launch.

“We do expect to have a chairman’s statement. It will be released, I would guess, at the end of the meeting tomorrow, late morning,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said at a daily news briefing.

The two-day gathering of top diplomats from the U.S., Russia, Germany, France, Britain, Japan, Canada and Italy opened at the Blair House in Washington on Wednesday.

Their meeting, intended to fine-tune agenda items for the G-8 Summit to be held at Camp David on May 18-19, comes as tensions deepen over the North’s plan for a long-range rocket launch, expected as early as this weekend, and reports of its preparations for a nuclear test.

Nuland noted Pyongyang’s record of provocative actions.

“When the North has been provocative, it often comes not just as a single incident but it sometimes comes in twos and threes,” she said. But she would not be drawn on whether Pyongyang’s latest move is to solidify the authority of new leader Kim Jong-un.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Thursday that the country was on full alert against North Korea’s planned rocket launch, expected at any time in the coming days.

“We want to seek their self-restraint until the last minute,” Noda told reporters as he arrived for talks with a special taskforce set up to handle Japan’s response to the planned launch.

“But we want to be fully prepared for any possible contingency,” Noda said.

Impoverished but nuclear-armed North Korea has said it plans to launch a satellite between Thursday and Monday to mark the centenary of the birth of late founding president Kim Il-Sung.

Western critics see the launch as a cover for missile test banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Tokyo has deployed missile defense systems to intercept and destroy the rocket if it looks set to fall on Japan, much as it prepared in 2009 before Pyongyang’s last long-range rocket launch.

From news reports