North Korea has said upcoming joint military exercises will push the region towards war. The warning comes days after four people were killed when North Korean shells rained down on a South Korean island.
North Korea's leaders are playing hardball
As if to prove that its threats are far from empty, North Korea reportedly staged a firing drill on Friday near the border with South Korea.
A South Korean defense ministry spokesman said that explosions had been heard for about three hours in the early afternoon and they appeared to be from the North.
There were no details about where the shells had landed but the exercise and North Korea's latest warnings sent a chill across South Korea's outposts.
The son of Kim Oh-bock, right, was killed in the attack on Tuesday
Their fear is not unfounded considering Tuesday's deadly attack on the tiny fishing and garrison island of Yeonpyeong that killed four people, including two civilians, and wounded 18 more. Dozens of houses were reduced to rubble.
The island, parts of which now resemble a warzone according to reports, has apparently emptied. There are mainly troops and local officials left.
Islanders on other more distant outposts, such as Baengnyeong near the spot where the South Korean Cheonan warship was sunk in March, fear they could be next.
Many residents have already tried to escape by taking crowded ferries to the mainland. Some were reportedly not able to buy tickets as the boats were fully booked.
Those who have to stay behind have stocked up on supplies such as water, instant food, blankets and candles.
New defense minister in Seoul
A US aircraft carrier group is being sent to the Yellow Sea to join South Korea's navy for a four-day joint exercise that is set to start on Sunday.
Many inhabitants have now left Yeonpyeong for the mainland
But Pyongyang warned on Friday that North Korea's army would bring down "a shower of dreadful fire" if its enemies encroach upon its "dignity and sovereignty even in the least."
One of the first tasks of South Korea’s new defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appointed on Friday, will be to decide upon how to react to any future provocation.
On Thursday, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-Young resigned after coming under fire for the army’s apparently slow response to Tuesday’s attack.
The South fired 80 shells at the North's coastal artillery positions but it did not call in air strikes, apparently to avoid increasing the tension even more.
"We suspect that the North sustained considerable damage," a South Korean military official said.
The South has since decided to send in more troops and guns to five frontline islands and has said it will change the rules of engagement so that the military can hit back harder in case of future attacks.
Dozens of houses were reduced to rubble
Hard-liners call for harsher response
Hard-line protesters in South Korea's capital have been calling on the government to react with more force to Pyongyang in general.
"We should not be scared of the enemy," one demonstrator said. "Our people has to be unified so that we can fight back with full force. Conservative groups like us and the older generation that remembers the Korean War have come here to show our solidarity."
However, other more left-wing South Koreans say that President Lee Myung-bak’s hard-line attitude over the past two years is to blame for the current tension on the Korean peninsula.
Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan