Even China criticises North Korea

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The Independent Online

North Korea's claim to have tested a nuclear weapon drew world condemnation today, with Australia calling it an outrage and even close ally China saying it resolutely opposed the test.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said the communist country's first-ever nuclear test, an underground explosion, was successfully performed "with indigenous wisdom and technology 100 per cent."

Beijing - a long-time supporter of the North but also the host of international talks aimed at persuading the fellow communist country to give up its nuclear ambitions - strongly criticised the move.

"China resolutely opposes the North Korean nuclear test and hopes that North Korea will return to the six-nation talks," according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement read out on state television news. " Upholding the stability of Northeast Asia is in the interests of all parties. "

The Danish Foreign Ministry said that the UN Security Council planned to meet later today to discuss North Korea. Denmark is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying: "Enormous damage has been done to the process of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the world."

Russia's foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said North Korea had "ignored the unanimous will of the international community" and called on all nations with an interest in the issue to "show restraint and self-possession in this difficult situation".

China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States have held intermittent talks with North Korea since 2003 in hopes of getting Pyongyang to abandon nuclear weapons in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

Strong criticism came from South Korea which shares the world's most heavily armed border with the North.

"The North's nuclear test is a provocative act and the North must clearly assume all responsibility," said Kim Geun-tae, head of the ruling Uri Party, according to the party.

South Korea's presidential spokesman, meanwhile, said Seoul will " sternly respond."

Seoul's Defence Ministry said the military's alert level had been raised in response to reports of the test.

North and South Korea have faced off at the heavily armed demilitarised zone separating them since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who arrived in Seoul today for talks with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, expressed caution, saying they had yet to confirm that the test had taken place.

"We must collect and analyse information to determine whether North Korea actually conducted the test," Abe said. Japan's Kyodo News agency quoted him as calling the test "absolutely unacceptable".

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said his government would call on the UN Security Council to take "swift and effective action" against North Korea including financial, trade and travel sanctions.

"But if the United Nations fails to act effectively against this outrage from North Korea, it will represent a further diminution of its authority," Howard said.

North Korea, meanwhile, lauded the claimed test, characterising it as self-defensive in nature.

"It will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it," KCNA said.