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North Korea has drawn widespread condemnation after conducting a nuclear test in defiance of international bans – a development signalled by an earthquake detected in the country and later confirmed by the regime.
The test, which took place in the north-east of the country just before noon local time, could bring North Korea a step closer to developing a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile and possibly bringing the west coast of the US within striking distance.
The authorities in Pyongyang said scientists had set off a "miniaturised" nuclear device with a greater explosive force than those used in two previous nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009.
"It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturised and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment," KCNA, the North's official news agency, announced.
The agency said the test had been in response to "outrageous" US hostility that "violently" undermined the regime's right to peacefully launch satellites – a reference to the condemnation and tighter sanctions that greeted Pyongyang's successful rocket launch almost two months ago.
Tuesday's test was quickly condemned by the UN general secretary, Ban Ki-moon, who said it was "deplorable" that Pyongyang had defied international calls to abandon it, adding that it was a "clear and grave violation of the relevant UN security council resolutions".
Barack Obama said the test was a highly provocative act that violated security council resolutions and posed a threat to US and international security. The US president called for "further swift and credible action by the international community" against North Korea.
China, once North Korea's closest ally, said it strongly opposed the test and warned North Korea to avoid any actions that could worsen the situation on the Korean peninsula.
"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, heedless of widespread international opposition, has again carried out a nuclear test, to which the Chinese government expresses its firm opposition," the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.
"It is China's firm stance to realise non-nuclearisation for the Korean peninsula and prevent nuclear proliferation and maintain peace and stability in northeast Asia," the statement said.
Russia's foreign ministry said the Kremlin "decisively condemned" the test.
William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, joined the international chorus of condemnation and warned that North Korea faced further isolation if it did not stop developing its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.
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