by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 12, 2012
North Korea said Wednesday the whole country "has been swept up with enormous joy" after its rocket launch, but in nearby Asian cities there was irritation over the latest antics from a nightmare neighbour.
Ahead of the launch, Japan deployed Patriot missiles in Tokyo and on its southern island chain of Okinawa which lies under the flight path, vowing to shoot down Pyongyang's rocket if it threatened the country.
But in the end, no interception was attempted and citizens were mostly perplexed by yet another provocation from the secretive state, which trumpeted a "ground-breaking" success in developing long-range missile technology.
Etsuko Yoshida, a 75-year-old retiree in Tokyo, was among many caught by surprise by the launch, which experts had said did not appear imminent amid talk of technical problems and bitter cold.
"I thought it had been put off," she told AFP. "I don't understand anything that country does."
Others expressed anger at the unpredictable actions of a regime that is viewed with extreme distaste in Japan, largely because of a series of kidnappings of its citizens by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.
Naomi Ihara, 43, a saleswoman at a pastry shop, said her relief at an apparent postponement had turned to anger.
"Honestly, that country gives us a lot of trouble. I don't have positive feelings about it," she said.
Although the government in Seoul strongly condemned the launch, the majority of South Koreans took the event in their stride.
Years of tensions and North Korean provocation, including two nuclear tests, numerous bloody maritime border clashes and even the direct shelling of a border island a year ago, have largely immunised people against shock and fear.
There were some small-scale protests as rightwing groups burned effigies of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. But most South Koreans interviewed merely expressed exasperation at their impoverished but brazen northern neighbour.
"The impression I got was that North Korea tried really hard to show something to the world -- where they always miserably failed -- and finally succeeded," said Katelyn Jun, 23, an office secretary.
"Good for them," she added sarcastically. "But I still don't know what they are trying to achieve through this.
"I suggest they focus on technology development that will benefit their people, not their military."
Over the border, Pyongyang's official mouthpiece, KCNA, said "people's hearts are racing with excitement".
It quoted Lee Dae-Ik, a 62-year-old man in the capital, as saying he could imagine how proud late leader Kim Jong-Il would have been.
"It brings tears to my eyes thinking all the efforts the dear leader has made to place our country at the top of the global space powerhouse," he said, according to the official media.
North Koreans working in the Chinese border city of Dandong welcomed news of their country's successful rocket launch.
"I'm happy," said a woman wearing colourful national dress and greeting dinner guests at a North Korean-themed restaurant near the Yalu river separating China and North Korea. "It was a success," she said of the launch, though declined further comment and would not give her name.
Female employees at other North Korean restaurants expressed similar sentiments, though appeared wary when asked for reaction and kept their comments to a minimum.
Despite an apparent sleight of hand from the North, which earlier this week extended its announced launch window as it dealt with a "technical deficiency", the region was prepared when Pyongyang pressed the button.
Tokyo was quick to confirm the launch, using its dedicated early warning system to tell national media and local authorities what had happened just moments after blast-off.
When Pyongyang fluffed its last attempt to fire a long-range rocket in April, Tokyo embarrassed itself, with the government's official announcement of the launch coming a long way behind the media.
But this time there was no delay and the prime minister's office took to Twitter, firing dozens of tweets giving details on the object's trajectory and where debris had fallen.
Taiwan also had military hardware deployed for any sign that the rocket may veer off course, in a launch that North Korea insisted was to put a satellite into space.
Taipei had two separate missile systems trained on the skies and a destroyer patrolling nearby waters in case North Korea's technology failed again.
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