South Korea's defense minister has resigned his post in response to criticism of his handling of a deadly North Korean artillery strike on a South Korean island.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak accepted Kim Tae-young's resignation Thursday. Kim faced strong criticism from ruling party and opposition lawmakers for what they called a weak and slow response to Tuesday's attack by the North on Yeonpyeong island, near the disputed western maritime border of the two Koreas.
North Korea fired about 100 shells at Yeonpyeong, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians and wounding 18 other people. Pyongyang said the attack was a response to what it called a provocative South Korean military drill in which shells were fired from the island. North Korea claims sovereignty over Yeonpyeong and its waters.
South Korea retaliated Tuesday by firing about 80 shells at the North Korean coastal base that launched the attack. A South Korean military official who took journalists on a tour of Yeonpyeong Thursday said it took about 10 minutes for South Korean forces to start the counterattack. South Korea's Yonhap news agency quotes Lieutenant Colonel Ju Jong-Wha as saying the return fire inflicted "severe damage" on North Korean forces.
President Lee's government also vowed Thursday to "sharply increase" the military's presence on Yeonpyeong and revise its rules of engagement to permit a more aggressive reply to future attacks.
North Korean state media say Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il and the son he is grooming to succeed him, Kim Jong Un, visited the province adjacent to the disputed island Monday, a day before the battled erupted.
North Korea also warned that it will stage more attacks like the one on Tuesday if the South continues what Pyongyang describes as "reckless military provocations."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated Washington's commitment to its alliance with South Korea in a phone call Thursday to her South Korean counterpart, Kim Sung-hwan.
The reporters who visited Yeonpyeong Thursday saw damaged homes and streets strewn with broken glass and debris. Most of the island's 1,600 residents evacuated to the South Korean mainland after the North Korean attack. South Korea plans to hold funerals Saturday for the two South Korean Marines killed in the incident in Seongnam, near the capital, Seoul.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.