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    Engineers said on Sunday that the satellite will orbit the earth and send back data for weather forecasts and crop surveys.

    Officials said they have moved all three stages of the rocket into position, pledging to push ahead with their plan in defiance of international warnings.

    The US, Japan, Britain and other nations have urged the isolated nation to cancel the launch, warning that firing the long-range rocket would violate UN resolutions and North Korea's promise to refrain from engaging in nuclear and missile activity.

    South Korea said its army is preparing for any threats.

    "We want to clarify that the launch is a provocation that threatens the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and northeast Asia,” Kim Min-seok, South Korean defence ministry spokesman, said.

    “The South Korean military is fully prepared to protect the South Korean people and respond firmly against any acts of provocation that threaten the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula."

    Media tour

    North Korea maintains that the launch is meant to showcase its scientific achievement.

    The communist nation organised an unprecedented visit to Tongchang-ri space centre to show that the Unha-3 rocket is not a disguised ballistic missile, as claimed by the US and its allies, notably South Korea and Japan.

    "To say this is a missile test is really nonsense," Jang Myong-jin, head of the space centre, said.

    "This launch was planned long ago, on the occasion of the 100th birthday of [late] president Kim Il-sung. We are not doing it for provocative purposes."

    For the first time, North Korea allowed some 50 foreign journalists to go to the new space centre built on the Cholsan peninsula, 50km from the Chinese border.

    The journalists were able to observe the rocket, painted in white with sky blue lettering, installed on a platform ahead of its scheduled launch sometime between April 12-16.

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