International community condemns North Korea

North Korea faced international condemnation and calls for fresh sanctions tonight following the “provocative” launch of two short-range missiles and an underground nuclear test.

Pyongyang fired the rockets today, just hours after the UN condemned yesterday’s testing of a nuclear device by the secretive north east Asian state.

North Korean officials said it was acting to “safeguard” its “national interest”.

But the tests have been roundly attacked by countries in the region and across the world.

France has called for fresh sanctions to be placed on the regime of Kim Jong-il, while both the US and Japan have urged strong action in light of the new tests.

Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin – the current president of the UN Security Council – said the body’s 15 members would begin work “quickly” on a new resolution regarding the latest developments.

It comes less than 24 hours after the UN condemned as a “clear violation” of previous resolutions with the underground atomic test.

Yesterday’s blast was estimated to be as powerful as the US bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Second World War.

Seismologists registered underground activity of magnitude 5.3 in the north east of North Korea, where the North Korean regime in Pyongyang tested an earlier nuclear device in 2006.

Russian defence officials said the blast was far more powerful than the previous test in 2006.

The nuclear test was described by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as “erroneous, misguided and a danger to the world” while US president Barack Obama said it recklessly endangered the people of north east Asia.

Others have seen it as a retaliation by Pyongyang following international condemnation of a rocket launch in April.

North Korea accused the US of hostility and said its army and people were ready to defeat an American invasion, accusing Mr Obama of attempting to “militarily stifle” the communist country.

An Myong Hun, a diplomat from the North Korean Mission in Geneva, said North Korea was protecting itself following previous UN sanctions.

He said: “We could not but take additional self-defence measures, including nuclear tests and the test launch of long-range missiles in order to safeguard our national interest.”

Some world leaders called on North Korea to return to negotiations with regional powers and the US.

Talks with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States broke down after the UN Security Council condemned a rocket launch in early April that Pyongyang has insisted was a peaceful attempt to put a communications satellite into space.

But rather than a return to the negotiation table, there were worrying signs today that tensions on the Korean peninsula could increase in the coming days.

South Korea’s spy chief, Won Sei-hoon, told politicians that North Korea appeared to be preparing to test-fire another short-range missile from a west coast launch pad.

Seoul announced it would join the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative immediately, even though North Korea has warned the South that joining the programme would be considered an act of war.

The programme involves stopping and searching ships suspected of carrying nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, materials to make them, or missiles to deliver them.

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