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North Korea fires more rockets,

says U.S. hostile

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 09:47:13 PM, Jack Kim, Reuters


Foreign visitors walk past models of a North Korean Scud-B missile (1st R)

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Seoul: North Korea, defiant in the face of international condemnation of its latest nuclear test, fired two short-range missiles off its east coast on Tuesday and accused the United States of plotting against its government.


In a move certain to compound tensions in the region, South Korea said it would join a U.S.-led initiative to intercept ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction, something Pyongyang has warned it would consider a declaration of war.


South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted a government source in Seoul as saying the North had test-fired one surface-to-air and one surface-to-ship missile off of its east coast. The missiles had a range of about 130 km (80 miles).


The North fired off three short-range missiles on Monday.


Monday's nuclear test, the North's second after one in 2006, drew sharp rebuke from regional powers, and U.S. President Barack Obama called Pyongyang's atomic arms program a threat to international security.


The demonstrations of military might have also taken a toll on Seoul's jittery financial markets, worried about the impact of North Korea's growing belligerence in a region which accounts for a sixth of the global economy.


Underlining concerns over how far the North might be prepared to raise the stakes, Obama assured South Korean President Lee Myung-bak of Washington's unequivocal commitment to defense on the long-divided peninsula, where some two million troops face off.


There is little more Washington can do to deter the ostracized state, punished for years by international sanctions and so poor it relies on aid to feed its 23 million people.


Analysts say the latest military grandstanding is also aimed at bolstering leader Kim Jong-il's steel grip on power at home so he can better engineer his succession -- with many speculating he wants his third son to take over.


The U.N. Security Council condemned the nuclear test and is working on a new resolution, but analysts say North Korea's giant neighbor China is unlikely to support anything tough.

For China, the more immediate risk may be serious rupture inside the impoverished state, which could spark a flood of North Korean refugees across its border.


Beijing is also believed to want to bring Pyongyang back to long-running talks with regional powers to make it give up ambitions to be a nuclear weapons power in return for massive aid and an end to its years as a pariah state.


However, analysts say North Korea, which now spurns those talks, looks set on wanting a place at the table of nuclear-armed states and the leverage that will bring it with Washington.


Brushing aside the latest international condemnation, Pyongyang said the United States was the aggressive one, its long-held argument to justify having a nuclear arsenal.


"The U.S. would be well advised to halt at once its dangerous military moves against the DPRK (North Korea) if it wants to escape the lot of a tiger moth, bearing deep in mind that any attempt to make a pre-emptive attack on the DPRK is little short of inviting a disaster itself." 



South Korean stocks and the won currency still looked shaken by the latest events, with the main KOSPI share index ending the day more than 2 percent lower, while the won fell almost one percent against the dollar, although many traders said the market was becoming less concerned by North Korea.


"While sentiment was certainly weighed down by growing North Korea tension, we think its impact would be relatively short-lived," said So Jang-ho, a market analyst at Samsung Securities.


A number of analysts said 67-year-old leader Kim, who is widely thought to have suffered a stroke last year, hopes his defiant weapons tests will help him secure support from the hard-line military for his chosen successor.


Kim was named successor by his father and the country's founding president Kim Il-sung, but has carefully avoided putting any of his three sons in the limelight.


"North Korea can only be hawkish this time, because time's running out for Kim Jong-Il," said Jang Cheol-hyeon, an expert at the Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul and a former official at the Workers Party of North Korea.


Kim wants to seal a deal with the United States quickly and seek a swift and sharp improvement in the country's economy before he can anoint one of his sons to succeed him, Jang said.


While the outside world was condemning Kim, state media reported on him enjoying a performance by troops which included the songs "Our General Is the Best" and "Song of Coastal Artillery Women."


The nuclear test has drawn outrage in the South, which is still mourning Saturday's suicide of former President Roh Moo-hyun.


It is also bound to raise concerns about proliferation, a major worry of the United States which has in the past accused Pyongyang of trying try to sell its nuclear know-how to states such as Syria. Some analysts say it also has close military ties with Iran.


(Additional reporting by Rhee So-eui, Kim Junghyun, Jon Herskovitz and Jack Kim in SEOUL, Chris Buckley in BEIJING, Arshad Mohammed and Paul Eckert in Washington; Writing by Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by Dean Yates and John Chalmers)




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