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Artillery heard on tense Yellow Sea Island

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YEONPYEONG, SOUTH KOREA (AP): North Korea warned Friday that US-South Korean plans for military manoeuvres put the peninsula on the brink of war, and appeared to launch its own artillery drills within earshot of an island it showered with a deadly barrage this week.

The fresh artillery blasts came just after the top US commander in South Korea, Gen Walter Sharp, toured the country's Yeonpyeong Island in a show of solidarity with Seoul and to survey damage from Tuesday's hail of North Korean artillery fire that killed four people.

An official at the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said about 20 blasts were heard on Yeongpyeong coming from North Korea's mainland some 7 miles (11 kilometres) to the north, and that nothing landed on South Korean territory. The military official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing military policy.

Tensions have soared between the Koreas since the North's strike Tuesday destroyed large parts of this island, killing two civilians as well as two marines in a major escalation of their sporadic skirmishes along the sea border.

The attack, eight months after a torpedo sank a South Korean warship in nearby waters, killing 46 sailors, has also laid bare weaknesses in South Korea's defence 60 years after the Korean War.

The incident forced South Korea's beleaguered defence minister to resign Thursday.

The heightened animosity between the Koreas is taking place 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.

As Washington and Seoul pressed China to use its influence on Pyongyang to ease tensions amid concerns of all-out war, the US prepared to send a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to South Korean waters for joint military drills starting Sunday.

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