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North Korea on Saturday condemned news reports that portraits of totalitarian leader Kim Jong Il have been removed from public places, calling them "a foolish attempt to take the sun down from the sky."

North Korea's state-run news agency, KCNA, said the reports were spread as part of "psychological warfare" by the United States and other "hostile forces" to undermine the communist regime.

North Korea warned that the psychological warfare will further hamper international efforts to resolve a dispute over its nuclear weapons programs.

"This is part of an anti-North Korean racket aimed at tainting the lofty authority of our supreme leadership and creating a false impression that there is a problem within our republic," KCNA said in a dispatch monitored by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

"Any plot to defame our supreme leadership is nothing more than a foolish attempt to take the sun down from the sky," KNCA said.

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency, citing unidentified diplomats, reported last week that portraits of Kim were being removed from buildings in the secretive North. Some news media in South Korea, Japan and the United States have since carried similar reports.

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