• Kyodo, Staff Report


North Korea’s decision to launch what it claimed was a rocket Sunday despite international calls for restraint has raised tensions with Japan and sparked angry calls from around the nation.

Protesters opposed to what was widely viewed as a ballistic missile test gathered at the Tokyo headquarters of Chongryon, the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, to denounce the reclusive nation’s latest provocation, which followed what is said was a hydrogen bomb test on Jan. 6.

“North Korea must offer an apology,” chanted a group of about 10 people who gathered near the building at around 11 a.m. Meanwhile, another man holding a megaphone shouted, “We’ll never tolerate North Korea’s reckless behavior!”

Barricades were set up and dozens of officers who arrived in large police vehicles were deployed to the area to keep the situation under control.

There was no reaction from the association. Only a small number of employees could be seen in the building.

Elsewhere, relatives of people believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents decades ago reacted sharply.

“North Korea is doing the same old thing over and over again,” said Sakie Yokota, 80, whose daughter Megumi was abducted by Pyongyang’s agents in 1977 at the age of 13 from the Niigata coast. “My mind only becomes dark,” she lamented.

With her husband Shigeru, the Yokotas have devoted their lives to the search for and return of their daughter, lobbying current and past governments to press Pyongyang to return the abductees.

“We are only saying we want them back,” she said, adding that Japan’s talks with North Korea have always been swayed by its nuclear tests and missile projects.

Shigeo Iizuka, 77, who heads a group of relatives whose kin were kidnapped by North Korea, urged his government to squarely deal with the abduction issue. Iizuka’s younger sister, Yaeko Taguchi, was kidnapped when she was 22.

Following last month’s nuclear test by the North Koreans, concern has grown among the relatives that the negotiations between Tokyo and Pyongyang over the abduction issue may again stall.

Voices of anger were also heard from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where A-bomb survivors and their supporters denounced the move.

Toyoichi Ihara, 79, who leads a group of Nagasaki hibakusha, said North Korea’s missiles could some day carry nuclear warheads and therefore their development should be stopped.

While he said he is not trying to justify Pyongyang’s move, Ihara added that other countries possessing nuclear weapons — and Japan, which is protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella — must move toward nuclear disarmament.

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui released a statement saying the city that was destroyed by an atomic bomb would never tolerate the missile launch, which runs counter to efforts to realize global peace and stability.

In Okinawa, Gov. Takeshi Onaga said, “a chill came over me,” after learning the missile flew over his prefecture.

In Okinawa, staff from local municipalities scrambled to gather information following the launch Sunday, but mostly remained unperturbed by the event.

Local officials in Okinawa said the J-Alert satellite-based early warning system worked properly.

Yoshitaka Nakayama, the mayor of Ishigaki, where PAC-3 anti-missile air defense units deployed ahead of the launch, said the city’s staff used to the system to successfully alert its residents.

When the first report came in the launch had taken place, that information was relayed to residents in the area through the local government’s radio broadcasting system.

“Although (the launch) came one day earlier than initially announced, we were able to handle the situation properly,” Nakayama said.

In Tokyo, Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe called the launch a violation of existing U.N. resolutions. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government “will continue to work closely with other governmental bodies to strengthen its crisis preparedness in order to protect the lives and property” of its residents, he said in a statement.

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