Preparations

Makoto Sasaki, a crisis management official, told the Associated Press news agency that all 25 towns and villages in Akita are to hold a joint drill later on Thursday, along with towns in nearby Iwate prefecture

This comes amid reports that North Korea has begun fueling a long-range
rocket for an impending launch.

Pyongyang said it will launch a communications satellite into orbit between Saturday and Wednesday, and that it will pass over Akita and Iwate.

Two warships and land-based interceptors are to be deployed to the Sea of Japan [EPA]
Akita and Iwate lie under the projected path of the rocket, which is about 130km from the so-called "danger zone" declared by North Korea for the launch.

Regional powers suspect the North is using the launch to test a long-range missile.

Last week, the Japanese government approved the deployment and use of missile interceptors in a move to counter any threat from the planned rocket launch.

As part of its preparations, Japan is expected to deploy two warships to the Sea of Japan (East Sea), as well as land-based interceptors in the northern Akita and Iwate prefectures.

Officials in Pyongyang have warned the rocket's first booster would land in the Sea of Japan, while the second stage would drop into the Pacific Ocean between Japan and Hawaii.

Pyongyang said it would regard any attempt to shoot down or otherwise interfere with its rocket as an act of war.

US-South Korea talks

Meanwhile, Lee Myung-bak, the South Korean president is to meet Barack Obama, his US counterpart, to discuss the planned rocket launch.

The two leaders are in London for the G20 summit, where Lee, along with Taro Aso, the Japanese prime minister, is trying to gather support for UN Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang if the launch goes ahead.

Osamu Sakashita, Aso's deputy cabinet secretary for public relations said Lee, who met with Aso at the G20 summit, told Aso that South Korea supports Japan's right to take action to defend itself.

Sakashita said "Japan has every right to take measures to protect its citizens. Korea recognizes this".