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The Blue Razor
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SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea defied world powers and carried out an underground test Monday of a nuclear bomb Russian officials said was comparable to those that obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The incident drew condemnation from Washington to Beijing and set the communist regime up for a showdown with the United Nations.

The U.N. Security Council was meeting later Monday in New York to discuss what President Barack Obama called Pyongyang's "blatant defiance" of resolutions banning the regime from developing weapons of mass destruction. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the test as a "danger to the world." Russia's Foreign Ministry called it "a serious blow to international efforts" to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

French officials said they would push for new sanctions, and even traditional Pyongyang ally China said it was "resolutely opposed" to the test, which Russian officials estimated yielded a powerful 10- to 20-kiloton blast — enough to flatten a city and far more than North Korea managed in a 2006 atomic test.

Raising the stakes
Pyongyang's unprecedented defiance raises the stakes in the mounting standoff over its nuclear program.

Last month, Pyongyang launched a rocket despite international calls for restraint, abandoned international nuclear negotiations, restarted its nuclear plants and warned it would carry out the atomic and long-range missile tests.

"We're heading for a full-blown crisis with the North," said Peter Beck, a Korean affairs expert who teaches at American University in Washington.

The rise in tensions comes amid speculation about who will succeed North Korea's authoritarian leader, 67-year-old Kim Jong Il, who is believed to have suffered a stroke last August.

Kim, who inherited the leadership from his father in 1994 and rules the nation of 24 million with an iron fist, has three sons but has not publicly named a successor.

Though desperately poor, North Korea increasingly has turned inward. With last month's controversial rocket launch and Monday's nuclear test, Kim clearly wants to show its people that the nation remains strong, analysts said.

"The fact that North Korea is undertaking this nuclear test amid great economic and political turmoil might be a sign that North Korea is trying to escape from some kind of internal difficulty," former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev said during a visit to Seoul.

Trying to drum up support
Beck predicted Pyongyang would parade the nuclear test before the North Korean people to drum up support for Kim and his regime.

"Kim Jong Il is trying to demonstrate his virility and that they are a power to be reckoned with," he said.

Monday's atomic test was conducted shortly before 10 a.m. about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of the northern city of Kilju, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky said, speaking on state-run Rossiya television.

Two hours later, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency declared that the regime had "successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of measures to bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense."

The U.S. Geological Survey registered seismic activity in northeastern North Korea at 9:54 a.m. (0054 GMT), which it initially identified as a 4.7-magnitude earthquake.

North Korea also test-fired three short-range missiles from a nearby launchpad, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed sources.
 
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