South Korea returned the fire after dozens of North Korean artillery shells killed two marines, injured 17 soldiers and 3 civilians on Yeonpyeong island near the tense Yellow Sea border. The authorities were struggling to evacuate the tiny island as fires raged out of control in scores of buildings. Jets were scrambled overhead as South Korean leaders met in the presidential bunker in Seoul. The military declared its highest non-wartime alert and warned of a stronger response if N. Korean provocations continue. South Korean President President Lee Myung-bak said a firm response was called for and ordered officials to make sure the firing wouldn't escalate. SKorean central bank executes held an emergency meeting in Seoul.
The White House strongly condemned the attack and callsed for a halt to belligerent action. The Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan ordered its ministers to prepare for "unexpected events" in reference to the worst clash on the peninsula since the Korean war 50 years ago. China and Russian expressed concern over the shelling and Beijing called for an urgent Six Power meeting on the crisis.
It erupted the day after the disclosure that a new uranium enrichment facility had begun working in North Korea prompted suspicions that Pyongyang was about to renew its production of nuclear weapons.
The clash came as South Korea launched a massive annual military exercises involving some 70,000 troops scheduled to last from Monday through Nov. 30. North Korea has complained about these exercises in the past.