Tensions on the Korean Peninsula were ratcheted up further today when North Korea warned the United States and South Korea that they would push the region to "the brink of war" if they went ahead with planned military exercises.
The warning came three days after the communist-controlled North on November 23 shelled the tiny island of Yeonpyeong in response to a South Korean military drill, killing four people and triggering the biggest crisis in North-South relations in decades.
Pyongyang's official KCNA news agency said the North would respond with a "shower of dreadful fire" to what it sees as southern encroachment.
"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war due to the reckless plan of those trigger-happy elements to stage again war exercises targeted against the [North]," KCNA said.
"The army and people of the DPRK [North Korea] are now greatly enraged at the provocation of the puppet group [South Korea] while getting fully ready to give a shower of dreadful fire and blow up the bulwark of the enemies if they dare to encroach again upon the DPRK's dignity and sovereignty even in the least."
The warning was prompted by the prospect of four-day naval maneuvers by the United States and South Korea, which were planned in advance of the November 23 attack.
It came after artillery-like sounds were heard once again near Yeonpyeong today. There was speculation that the sounds were the result of a military exercise by the North.
As tensions continued, General Walter Sharp, commander of U.S. Forces Korea and the United Nations Command, visited Yeonpang and warned North Korea against further attacks.
"It is clear to me by a briefing I have received and by what I have seen here physically North Korea attacked this island," Sharp said.
"It is a clear violation of the  armistice agreement and we and United Nations Command will investigate this completely and call on North Korea to stop any further attacks."
South Korea In Turmoil
In South Korea, the political fallout continued over the government's alleged slow response. The defense minister, Kim Tae-young, resigned on November 25, with President Lee Myung-bak yet to name a replacement.
Park Sang-hak, organizer of a rally in Seoul calling for a tougher retaliation, said the South Korean government had failed to act decisively.
"It's definitely an invasion into the sovereignty of our land. But our government has not punished them yet," Park said.
"They have talked about punishment without any action. We feel uncomfortable. How can we trust our president with our daily life?"
In the South Korean city of Incheon, which is acting as an emergency evacuation center for the islanders of Yeonpyeong, Mayor Song Yeong-gil called on the government to implement tougher defense policies for the five islands near the border.
"If the South and the North keep standing face to face with each other, we would have to fight against the North until the end of their regime; and it requires us taking fundamental measures to keep the residents in these areas safe," Song said.
As she recovered from her ordeal in a spa in Incheon, Lee Im-sook, 76, reflected sadly that she had just undergone her second evacuation experience -- having fled from her North Korean hometown during the 1950-53 Korean War.
"It breaks my heart that tragedy like the Korean War happens again during my life," Lee said.
compiled from agency reports