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N. Korea again demands apology from South

PYONGYANG -- North Korea lashed out anew Tuesday at South Korea over a small public protest in Seoul in which demonstrators burned effigies of the North's leaders, saying it would not hold talks unless the South apologized for anti-North Korean actions "big and small."

The regime warned that it could take retaliatory measures at any time.

The statement, which was issued by the Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army, came amid international fears that the North is preparing to conduct a medium-range missile test and also as North Korea marked the second day of festivities in honor of the April 15 birthday of its first leader, Kim Il Sung.

Later in the day, its state media quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying North Korea has no intention of holding talks with the United States unless it also abandons its hostility against the North.

The spokesman said the North will "intensify unspecified military countermeasures" unless the United States stops conducting military drills on the peninsula and pulls out all the military assets needed to threaten the North with a nuclear attack.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said North Korea probably isn't able to launch a nuclear-tipped missile. "Based on our current intelligence assessments, we do not think that they have that capacity," Obama said in a recorded interview broadcast yesterday on NBC's "Today" show. Even so, he said, "we have to make sure we are dealing with every contingency out there."

Obama said the United States has repositioned missile defenses "to guard against any miscalculation on their part" and that he expected the North to "make more provocative moves" in the coming weeks.

North Korea's renewed vitriol followed a Monday protest by about 250 people in downtown Seoul, where effigies of Kim Il Sung and his late son and successor, Kim Jong Il, were burned. Such protests are fairly common in South Korea, and some analysts suggested North Korea was using it as a pretext to reject calls for a dialogue with the South, at least for the time being.

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