India missile test raises tension

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The Independent Online

India successfully tested a new version of its nuclear-capable intermediate range Agni missile, the most powerful weapon in its arsenal, from an island off the eastern coast.

India successfully tested a new version of its nuclear-capable intermediate range Agni missile, the most powerful weapon in its arsenal, from an island off the eastern coast today.

The test came as hundreds of thousands of Indian and Pakistani soldiers, ballistic missiles, fighter jets and tanks faced each other across the border in the biggest military standoff in decades.

The government said the test was routine, however, and did not carry any political meaning. The test had been planned for January many months ago, well before the 13 December attack on the Indian Parliament that produced the military standoff.

"Agni is an ongoing project. We are taking many more steps for the nation's security and protection. This is one of them," Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in a message broadcast on news channels. He congratulated the scientists behind the tests.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said: "We hope the international community will take note of this Indian behavior, which is prejudicial to the pursuit of stability in our region, especially during the current situation. On its part, Pakistan favors a policy of restraint."

The statement added: "Pakistan has the means to defend itself."

A foreign ministry official in India, Nirupama Rao, said the timing was determined only by technical factors. "The flight test was not abrupt or sudden. It was a well thought out measure."

She said: "The test was conducted in a non–provocative manner and has no bearing on the situation on the India–Pakistan border. This should not aggravate any tensions on the border or between India and Pakistan."

The missile, a short–range version of the intermediate–range Agni–I, soared into the sky over the Bay of Bengal from Wheeler's Island off the coast of Orissa state early in the morning, officials said. Its range is 700 kilometers (420 miles). The most advanced version of the Agni can reach 2,480 kilometers (1,500 miles).

The testing site is located 80 kilometers (50 miles) out to sea from a coastal facility where the Defense Research and Development Organization tests much of its modern defense weaponry. Agni means "fire" in Hindi, India's national language.

Other details on the new version were not immediately available from the testing range at Chandipur, 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) southeast of New Delhi.

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