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India missile test upsets Pakistan

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NEW DELHI, India — India successfully tested a new version of its most powerful nuclear-capable missile today, and rival Pakistan warned the test could further destabilize the tense region.

The missile, a short-range version of the Agni-I, soared into the sky over the Bay of Bengal from Wheeler's Island off India's east coast, officials said.

"Agni is an ongoing project. We are taking many more steps for the nation's security and protection. This is one of them," Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in a broadcast message.

The test came amid simmering tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors, with soldiers, ballistic missiles and tanks facing each other across the border in India and Pakistan's biggest military standoff in decades.

Indian officials said the test was planned long before the current crisis and that Pakistan, the United States, China and the Western powers were given advance warning.

"The test was conducted in a non-provocative manner and has no bearing on the situation on the India-Pakistan border. This should not aggravate any tensions on the border or between India and Pakistan," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said.

Pakistan, however, said the test threatened to destabilize the region and urged the international community to take notice. Both Germany and Britain criticized the timing of India's test.

"We hope the international community will take note of this Indian behavior which is prejudicial to the pursuit of stability in our region, especially during the current situation," a Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement said.

"Pakistan has the means to defend itself," the statement added.

Despite U.S. and international efforts to defuse the crisis, India insisted today it would not ease its troop presence on the border with Pakistan.

India's powerful Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani today ruled out any immediate reduction of tensions, saying Pakistan had yet to act on Indian demands for the return of 20 men wanted for terrorist acts.

"At the moment, the government decision is that the present situation will continue," Advani told reporters.

The nations have fought two of their three wars over the divided Himalayan province of Kashmir, which both claim in its entirety. India accuses Pakistan of backing Islamic militants fighting for independence in the Indian-controlled part of the province. Pakistan denies the charge, and accuses mainly Hindu India of oppressing Muslims in Kashmir.

The new Agni missile has a range of 420 miles, compared with the earlier version, which has a range of 1,500 miles. Agni means "fire" in Hindi, India's national language.

India's missile arsenal includes army and air force versions of the short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile Prithvi; the Trishul, a surface-to-air missile that targets aircraft and can counter sea-skimming missiles; and the anti-tank Nag missile.

Pakistan's arsenal includes nuclear-capable ballistic missiles with ranges of up to 900 miles, capable of reaching most targets in India.