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(6th LD) N. Korea conducts 5th nuclear test

All Headlines 21:26 September 09, 2016

(ATTN: RECASTS throughout, ADDS President Park's security meeting in 13th para)
By Choi Kyong-ae and Kim Soo-yeon

SEOUL, Sept. 9 (Yonhap) -- North Korea conducted its fifth nuke test Friday in a clear show of defiance against the international community's calls for it to halt its nuclear and missile programs.

North Korea confirmed the test four hours after seismic waves from a magnitude-5 artificial earthquake were detected around 9:30 a.m. near the North's Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

The North said through its state-run media that the successful test has advanced its technology of mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile to a higher level.

"The standardization of the nuclear warhead will enable (the North) to produce at will and as many warheads as it wants. Including a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads of higher strike power with its firm hold on the technology to produce and use various fissile materials," the North said in an article carried by the Korean Central News Agency.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) analyzed the nuclear test as the North's biggest test to date with the device giving an explosive yield reaching 10 kilotons. The yield was higher than an estimated six kilotons detected in January's nuclear test.

In this photo taken on Sept. 9, 2016, a soldier looks at a television report on North Korea's nuclear test at Seoul Station. (Yonhap)

Immediately after the artificial quake, South Korea's military held an emergency video conference headed by JCS Chairman Lee Sun-jin and placed its military forces on full alert so Seoul could react "sternly and strongly" in case of further provocations.

In response to Pyongyang's confirmation, the military used its strongest phrase "preemptive strike."

"If there is any sign of the use of nuclear weapons from the North, we will make a preemptive strike against the North's leadership in close cooperation with the U.S.," Leem Ho-young, chief director of the strategic planning directorate at JCS, told reporters at a briefing.

In addition, Seoul will further bolster missile capabilities in power and precision to counter ever-growing threats from the North, Leem said.

Citing the nuclear test as a "grave provocation," the Seoul government pushed the Kim Jong-un regime to give up its nuclear and missile programs completely and irreversibly in a transparent manner.

"This (nuclear test) is a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and a grave challenge to the international community," President Park Geun-hye said during an emergency meeting with her aides in Laos, the last leg of her three-nation trip that also included China and Russia.

Park cut short her trip and returned home to handle the urgent security issues.

She convened an emergency meeting with the JCS chief, defense, foreign and unification ministers to discuss the nuclear issues and what actions will be take going forward.

This photo taken on Sept. 9, 2016 shows President Park Geun-hye hurriedly walking up the stairs to her flight in Laos following a nuclear test in North Korea. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, the United States and its allies expressed concerns as the North boasted of its improved nuclear capabilities. Even China, Pyongyang's closest ally, said it will participate in discussions for additional international sanctions against the communist state.

The White House said it is aware of the seismic activity near the North's nuclear site.

"We are aware of seismic activity on the Korean Peninsula in the vicinity of a known North Korean nuclear test site," National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said. "We are monitoring and continuing to assess the situation in close coordination with our regional partners."

Other countries like Japan were quick to respond, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying North Korea's additional nuclear test can never be tolerated and that if it turns out to be true, Japan cannot help but express strong protest.

Seoul, Tokyo and Washington agreed to push for "additional" and "strong" measures against Pyongyang's latest nuclear test, suggesting that there will be more punitive action against the communist country's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles.

This photo taken on Sept. 9, 2016, shows a county in North Hwanghae Province, North Korea, following a possible nuclear test by the communist state. (Yonhap)

North Korea has escalated its saber-rattling since it conducted the fourth nuclear test in January and test-fired a series of ballistic missiles following that. It has stepped up its efforts to improve its nuclear and missile capabilities simultaneously in order to have a nuclear-armed missile that could strike the U.S. mainland.

To achieve the goal, North Korean experts said Pyongyang will continue its nuclear weapons tests despite sanctions. In March, the U.N. Security Council slapped its toughest sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear test and long-range rocket launch early this year.

"Strong international sanctions imposed in March following the January test didn't discourage the North's nuclear weapons and missile ambitions. If not support from China, the North won't budge at all," according to Kim Dong-yub, a North Korean expert at Seoul's Kyungnam University.

"There seem to be a definite advancement in the technology needed to produce a miniaturized nuclear warhead as North Korea mentioned the warhead's standardization for the first time," Kim said.

Pyongyang may conduct sixth and seventh nuclear tests at any time it wants, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) warned.

"The latest detonation is more powerful than the previous four tests but does not seem to be a hydrogen bomb," the NIS said. Pyongyang had claimed it detonated a hydrogen bomb earlier this year.

The fifth nuclear test fell on the 68th anniversary of the founding of North Korea's government and just days after world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, gathered in China for the G-20 summit of advanced and emerging economies.

Related to the latest test, nuclear weapons experts said the bomb that the United States dropped on Hiroshima had a 16 kiloton yield. The North's yield had about 60 percent of the destructive power of the U.S. bomb, which turned the Japanese city into ashes during World War II.

The epicenter is believed to be the same location where the North conducted its fourth test in January. Pyongyang also conducted nuke tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

kyongae.choi@yna.co.kr, sooyeon@yna.co.kr
(END)

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