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Japan's ruling party - angry about North Korea's nuclear test - on Thursday supported banning the North's ships from Japanese waters, defying a reported warning from the communist nation that sanctions would provoke "strong countermeasures."
Japan's tough measures - expected to be approved by the Cabinet on Friday - came as the United States circulated a draft U.N. resolution that calls on a travel ban and financial sanctions against the North.
China - a close ally of Pyongyang - on Thursday wouldn't commit to backing the harsh draft U.N. resolution. But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters in Beijing that Pyongyang needed to be told that the nuclear test was a mistake.
"It's necessary to express clearly to North Korea that the nuclear test is the wrong practice and ... and the international community is opposed to this nuclear test," Liu said.
The Japanese weren't waiting for the U.N. resolution - which the U.S. hopes the U.N. Security Council will pass on Friday. Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party backed a series of harsh measures Thursday, including limits on imports and a ban on all North Korean ships in Japanese waters.
The measures came amid a North Korean warning that the country would have an unspecified response to sanctions, Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported from Pyongyang.
"We will take strong countermeasures," Kyodo quoted Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador in charge of diplomatic normalization talks with Japan, as saying in an interview when asked about the sanctions.
"We never speak empty words," Song reportedly warned, without elaborating on the threat.
The Japanese were also lobbying for a tougher U.N. resolution that would include a prohibition on North Korean ships entering any port. Japan also wanted to ban North Korean aircraft from taking off or landing in any country.
Such proposals would likely face strong Russian and Chinese opposition, so the U.S. opted for a softer approach without the bans on ships and aircraft.
North Korea also issued a warning to America.
"If the U.S. increases pressure upon (the North), persistently doing harm to it, it will continue to take physical countermeasures, considering it as a declaration of a war," Ri Kyong Son, vice spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry, said in an interview with APTN in Pyongyang.
Since Monday's alleged nuclear test, there have been daily reports in South Korean and Japanese media that Pyongyang was preparing another explosion. On Thursday, the South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo quoted an unidentified source "well versed in North Koreans affairs" as saying a second test would happen in two to three days.
South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, was not immediately available for comment.
The alleged atomic explosion sparked fears that radioactivity might drift into South Korea, and scientists have been scrambling to spot any signs of fallout that would confirm the underground test.
"So far, we have not detected any abnormal level of radioactivity" in South Korea, said Han Seung-jae, an official at the government-affiliated Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety.
Han added that experts, who were analyzing air samples, were still unsure whether the North exploded a nuclear device or that the test succeed.
"There had been little chance of radioactivity being blown southward as the wind had been blowing toward north or east for the past few days," he said.
The country's Science and Technology Ministry concurred with the institute's findings.
Japanese military planes have also been monitoring for radioactivity in the atmosphere but have reported no abnormal readings.
Worries about possible nuclear fallout also inspired more than 600 students to protest in Russia's Pacific coast city of Vladivostok - about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the border with North Korea.
The protesters gathered outside a university, holding signs that said, "We don't want to be mutants," reported the Russian RIA-Novosti news agency.
North Korea has been demanding direct talks with America, but U.S. President George W. Bush refused to agree to such a meeting in a TV news conference Wednesday from the White House. Bush argued that Pyongyang would be more likely to listen when facing the protests of many nations.
Bush added that the U.S. was ready to defend its allies in the region, but that it would also try to use diplomacy to deal with North Korea.
"I believe the commander in chief must try all diplomatic measures before we commit our military," he said.
North Korean defectors said they hoped the claimed nuclear test would draw sanctions that would speed up the communist regime's collapse.
Kang Chol Hwan, who wrote a book about his childhood in a North Korean work camp, said, "The nuclear test was their last card and it signals the beginning of the regime's end."