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N. Korea launch plan affects tourism, events in Okinawa

Date Posted: 2012-04-13

North Korea's planned launch of what is believed to be a ballistic missile is affecting tourism and events on Ishigaki and Miyako islands of Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa.

Ishigaki island, which has a population of less than 50,000, is a tourism base for Yaeyama islands, including Taketomi and Iriomote islands on top of Ishigaki itself.

It attracted some 660,000 tourists last year although the figure was down from 2010 due to the fallout from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the Tohoku northeastern Japan region, according to the Ishigaki office of the Okinawa prefectural government.

After North Korea announced its plan to launch a "working satellite" during the five days launch window this week, a high school in Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan, canceled its school excursion to Ishigaki island, which was slated in the period, due to concern over the launch, officials at the Ishigaki municipal government said. Elsewhere, there has been no major impact from North Korea's launch plan, but a tourism industry official on Ishigaki island said, "We cannot say the island would be completely safe" in the event of the launch. "We are advising travelers to come here in May if they are worried about the launch.

The North Korean object, which is widely seen to be a long-range ballistic missile, is expected to pass over the Sakishima island chain including Ishigaki and Miyako islands.
On Miyako island, located some 130 kilometers east-northeast of Ishigaki island, a popular annual triathlon event is scheduled for April 15th. Some 1,500 people from Japan and abroad are expected to take part in this year's 28th competition. The government of the city of Miyakojima on the island decided to hold the event as scheduled after rounds of discussions, but the problem at this point is how to respond soon after the launch is carried out.

North Korea plans to launch what it claims is a satellite between 7 a.m. and noon of one of the five days from today through April 16th. Meanwhile, the starting time for swimming, the first of the three components of the triathlon event, has been set at 7 a.m. on April 15th.

Kazuhide Okuhara, 56, director-general of the sporting event's organizing committee, said, "If the launch is confirmed, we would halt the competition temporarily."
Okuhara said, though, that if the launch is confirmed after the start of the swimming race, an alarm issued through an onshore warning system may not reach participants in the race. In such case, he says the committee is considering alerting participating athletes to the North Korean launch using whistles from ships nearby.
.An opening ceremony for the triathlon event will be held on Friday evening. Before the ceremony, the organizing committee plans to explain to participants how they will be informed when the launch is carried out and how they should take shelter.

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