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ALERT -- North Korea threatens to set off nuclear test...

(Reuters) - North Korea renewed a threat on Saturday to conduct a nuclear test amid heightened concern that the reclusive state with a stockpile of missiles may set off an atomic device for the fourth time on the path to building a nuclear arsenal.

North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the country was justified in using all available means at its disposal to counter aggressive challenges by the United States and South Korea aimed at stifling its sovereignty.

North Korea clarifies "its resolute stand that it would take counter-measures including nuclear test to protect the sovereignty and dignity," the newspaper said in a commentary carried by the official KCNA news agency.

The threat comes days after statements by South Korea's defense minister that preparations for a new test appear to be near completion although analysis by an American think tank last week suggested a test may not be imminent.

A U.S. official said the United States is "closely monitoring" the situation on the Korean peninsula and urged North Korea to refrain from actions that could threaten regional peace.

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