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Korea: Day of sabre-rattling as fears grow over all-out war

South Korea's troops were on high alert yesterday as the government exchanged threats with rival North Korea following the military skirmish that took tensions on the peninsula to new extremes.

US President Barack Obama reaffirmed Washington's pledges to protect its ally after the North shelled a South Korean island near their border, killing two marines and wounding civilians.

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon called the attack one of the “gravest incidents” since the end of the Korean War.

South Korea vowed massive |retaliation should North Korea attack again and yesterday said it would strengthen military forces in the disputed western waters near the island of Yeonpyeong.

The North, in turn, warned of more military strikes if the South encroached on the maritime border by “even 0.001 millimetre”.

Coastguard official Kim Dong-jin said about 340 residents escaping the island were being taken to the port city of Incheon.

The clash began on Tuesday when North Korea warned the South to halt military drills near their sea border. When Seoul refused and began firing artillery into disputed waters, the North retaliated by shelling Yeonpyeong.

Seoul responded by unleashing its own barrage from K-9 155mm self-propelled howitzers.

Officials in Seoul said there could be considerable North Korean casualties.

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