THE United States has called on North Korea to abandon its plans to conduct a nuclear test and launch a satellite, while urging China to exert its influence to ward off the ''provocative actions''.
Both Japan and South Korea have positioned interceptor missiles, with latest satellite images showing all three stages of North Korea's long-range rocket have been put in position ready for a launch that could be as soon as tomorrow.
Philippine Airlines, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have been forced to divert planes to avoid the rocket's path. The splashdown area of the rocket's second stage is expected to be in the Philippine Sea.
Pyongyang has maintained that the launch of the ''working satellite'' is for ''earth observation purposes'' and to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of its late leader, Kim Il-sung. But South Korea and the United States say the satellite launch is a ballistic missile test.
The launch is also part of a series of events cementing the status of his grandson, Kim Jong-un, as the insular nation's supreme leader.
In a special party conference to be convened today, Kim Jong-un is likely to be named secretary-general of the Workers' Party. Kim Jong-un is already the chief commander of North Korea's 1 million-strong army.
As tensions mount in the Korean Peninsula, the Washington-based rights group, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, revealed fresh details on the country's political prison and labour camp system, updating its landmark Hidden Gulag report, which it last published in 2003.
The HRNK said an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 North Koreans were in prison labour camps. Relying on testimony from 60 North Korean defectors, the report detailed the detention of entire families, including children and the elderly, for the ''political crimes'' of other family members.
One 66-year-old grandmother described helping deliver seven babies at one police detention centre in 2000 from women who had become pregnant to Han Chinese men. She described the newborn being thrown in a plastic-lined box, which was later taken out and buried when it was full.
''A doctor explained that since North Korea was short on food, the country should not have to feed the children of foreign fathers,'' the report said.