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   ISHINOMAKI, Japan (AP) — Just days after arriving in Japan as the new U.S. ambassador, Caroline Kennedy is making a two-day visit to areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami to meet survivors and highlight America's commitment to supporting its ally.

   The daughter of President John F. Kennedy tried her hand at calligraphy, exchanged high-fives with schoolchildren and got an early birthday greeting Monday as she toured the northeastern region, about 340 kilometers (210 miles) north of Tokyo.

   Rebuilding in the region has barely begun. Makeshift stores, restaurants, car washes and laundries have been set up in areas flattened by the tsunami, which was triggered by a magnitude-9 earthquake. The disaster left more than 18,000 people dead or missing, and tens of thousands of people remain in temporary, prefabricated housing more than 2 1/2 years later.

   Residents of the industrial port city of Ishinomaki stood in the wind and pouring rain waiting for a glimpse of Kennedy. She visited a park with a wide vista of the city's ravaged waterfront before heading to the Mangokuura Elementary School.

   The students performed skits in English and sang "Happy Birthday" to Kennedy, who turns 56 on Wednesday. Kennedy presented 112 books to the school, donated in memory of Taylor Anderson, an American who died in the tsunami while teaching at Mangokuura and other schools in Ishinomaki.

   Kennedy brushed in black ink the Japanese character for the word "tomo," or friend. She then sat down to read "Where the Wild Things Are," the classic children's book by American author Maurice Sendak, to a sixth-grade class.

Published in National News

   PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) - A South Korean Defense Ministry official says North Korea has completed preparations for a missile test that could come any day.

   The warning Wednesday came as Pyongyang prepared to mark the April 15 birthday of its founder Kim Il Sung, historically a time when it seeks to draw the world's attention with dramatic displays of military power.

   In Pyongyang, however, the focus was more on beautifying the city ahead of the nation's biggest holiday. Soldiers hammered away on construction projects and gardeners got down on their knees to plant flowers and trees.

   The official in Seoul said the North's military is capable of conducting multiple missile launches involving Scud and medium-range Rodong missiles, as well as a missile transported to the east coast recently.

   He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Published in National News

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