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On the brink of war, North Korea warns

By Lee Jin-Man And Foster Klug

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 26 2010 9:58 p.m. MST

An anti-North Korea protester threatens police trying to extinguish burning icons of North Korea during a demonstration Friday in Seoul.

Associated Press

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YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea — A defiant flash of North Korean artillery within sight of the island that it attacked this week sent a warning signal to Seoul and Washington: The North is not backing down.

The apparent military drill Friday came as the top U.S. commander in South Korea toured Yeonpyeong island to survey the wreckage from the rain of artillery three days earlier. As a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier headed toward the Yellow Sea for exercises next week with South Korea, the North warned that the joint maneuvers will push the Korean peninsula to the "brink of war."

South Korea's government, meanwhile, struggled to recover from the surprise attacks that killed four people, including two civilians, and forced its beleaguered defense minister to resign Thursday. President Lee Myung-bak on Friday named a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the post.

Tensions have soared between the Koreas since the North's strike Tuesday destroyed large parts of Yeonpyeong in a major escalation of their sporadic skirmishes along the disputed sea border.

The attack — eight months after a torpedo sank a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors — has laid bare Seoul's weaknesses in defense 60 years after the Korean War. Lee has ordered reinforcements for the 4,000 troops on Yeonpyeong and four other Yellow Sea islands, as well as top-level weaponry and upgraded rules of engagement.

The heightened animosity between the Koreas comes as the North undergoes a delicate transition of power from leader Kim Jong Il to his young, inexperienced son Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s and is expected to eventually succeed his ailing father.

Washington and Seoul have pressed China to use its influence on Pyongyang to ease tensions amid worries of all-out war. A dispatch Friday from Chinese state media saying Beijing's foreign minister had met the North Korean ambassador appeared to be an effort to trumpet China's role as a responsible actor and placate the U.S. and the South.

The North sees the U.S.-South Korean drills scheduled to start Sunday as a major military provocation. Pyongyang unleashed its anger over the planned exercises in a dispatch earlier Friday.

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