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North Korea blasts US sanctions

North Korea has issued a furious statement against the United States for imposing sanctions against its government figures and defence industry for the cyber-attack against Sony.

The reclusive communist state again denied any role in the breach of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files.

A spokesman for North Korea's foreign ministry accused the US of "groundlessly" stirring up hostility towards Pyongyang and claimed the new sanctions would not weaken the country's military might.

North Korea has expressed fury over the Sony Pictures Entertainment comedy The Interview, which depicts the fictional assassination of leader Kim Jong Un.

But it denied being involved in the cyber-attack against Sony, which later escalated to threats of terrorist attacks against cinemas.

The film release was pulled, but later released in limited cinemas and online.

The North Korean spokesman told official media mouthpiece the Korean Central News Agency that the sanctions show America's "inveterate repugnancy and hostility toward the DPRK", referring to the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"The policy persistently pursued by the US to stifle the DPRK, groundlessly stirring up bad blood toward it, would only harden its will and resolution to defend the sovereignty of the country," the spokesman said.

The US on Friday sanctioned 10 North Korean government officials and three organisations, including Pyongyang's primary intelligence agency and state-run arms dealer, in what the White House described as an opening move in the response to the Sony cyber attack.

The sanctions might have only a limited effect, as North Korea already is under tough US and international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes. President Barack Obama also warned Pyongyang that the US was considering whether to put North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, which could jeopardise aid to the country on a global scale.

US officials portrayed the sanctions as a swift, decisive response to North Korean behaviour that they said had gone far over the line. Never before has the US imposed sanctions on another nation in direct retaliation for a cyber attack on an American company.

There have been doubts in the cyber community about the extent of North Korea's involvement. Many experts have said it is possible that hackers or even Sony insiders could be the culprits, and questioned how the FBI can point the finger so conclusively.

The 10 North Koreans singled out for sanctions did not necessarily have anything to do with the attack on Sony, senior US officials said. Anyone who works for or helps North Korea's government is now fair game, especially North Korea's defence sector and spying operations, they said.

Sony initially decided to call off the film's release after cinemas decided not to show it. After Mr Obama criticised that decision, Sony released the movie in limited cinemas and online.

Questions remain about who was behind a near 10-hour shutdown of North Korean websites. The United States never said whether it was responsible, but North Korea's powerful National Defence Commission blamed the US and hurled racial slurs at Mr Obama, calling him a reckless "monkey in a tropical forest".

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