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Defiant North Korea flexes missile muscle

Seoul, July 6 (Reuters): A defiant North Korea today acknowledged for the first time that it had launched several missiles, vowed to carry out more tests and threatened to use force if the international community tried to stop it.

China, grappling with pressure from Washington over North Korea’s missile tests, said its top negotiator on the North Korean nuclear crisis would visit Pyongyang next week.

While China and Russia oppose sanctions on North Korea for the volley of missiles it fired off yesterday, the US and Japan have closed ranks in the face of a UN Security Council split on the issue.

“The KPA will go on with missile launch exercises as part of its efforts to bolster deterrent for self-defence in the future, too,” North Korea’s official KCNA news agency quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying. “The DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) will have no option but to take stronger physical actions of other forms, should any other country dare take issue with the exercises and put pressure upon it.”

Officials say North Korea launched at least six missiles from its east coast early yesterday and, as the international community fumed, it fired off a seventh some 12 hours later.

The missiles included a long-range Taepodong-2, which some experts had said could hit Alaska. US officials said it flew for less than a minute and splashed into the sea west of Japan.

South Korea’s defence minister told a parliamentary committee that an analysis of equipment and personnel being moved in and out of a missile-launch site in North Korea suggested the possibility of additional launches.

South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo cited a government official as saying the North might be looking to launch three or four more intermediate-range missiles. NBC News, citing unnamed US officials, said preparations seemed to be under way for a second Taepodong test, but the weapon was not yet at the launch pad. Experts say it could take weeks to prepare a Taepodong-2 for firing. Tokyo said it did not expect an imminent launch.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said sanctions would be counter-productive. “Trying to talk straight away about the threat of sanctions leads to reciprocal threats from North Korea, as has happened before. And then you still have to return to negotiations, only then it will be in a more tense atmosphere.”

A North Korean spokesman said Pyongyang did not feel bound by a moratorium on missile testing and had the right to conduct such tests in the interests of self-defence.

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