Thursday, North Korea's military threatened to attack Japan if it tries to shoot down a satellite that the Pyongyang is planning to launch as early as this weekend, reports say.

The threats came as U.S. media reports said that there are indications that the communist state is fueling a rocket in final preparations ahead of a planned launch that could come as early as this weekend. Weather conditions over the Korean peninsula favored a launch on Saturday, experts said.

Our revolutionary armed forces... will not hesitate to mount retaliatory strikes if hostile forces show the slightest signs of moving to shoot down our satellite, said a statement from the Joint Chiefs of Staff carried by official media.

If Japan loses its senses and carries out the shooting of our peaceful satellite, the people's army will deliver storms of fire in retaliatory strikes not only against already-deployed anti-missile weaponry but Japan's key facilities, the statement added.

Japan, which has ordered its military to intercept debris of the rocket in case the firing failed and fell in its territory, deployed destroyers to the East Sea along with South Korea and the United States, while stressing they didn't plan to intercept the rocket unless populations are threatened.

The communist state has announced it will send up a communications satellite between April 4 and April 8 as part of a peaceful space program. The U.S. and its Asian allies Japan and South Korea, say the launch is a pretext to test a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, which could in theory, reach Alaska or Hawaii, in violation of U.N. resolutions.

Earlier Sunday , U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the launch appeared imminent, but that the U.S. would not shoot the rocket down.

Meanwhile, top U.S. military officers have said the North may launch several other short- or medium-range missiles at the same time as the rocket launch, as it has during previous missile tests.

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