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Washington keeps more than 28,000 troops in South Korea to protect its ally — a sore point for North Korea, which cites the U.S. presence as the main reason behind its drive to build nuclear weapons.

Dressed in a heavy camouflage jacket, army fatigues and a black beret, Sharp carefully stepped down a devastated street strewn with debris and broken glass. Around him were charred bicycles and shattered bottles of soju, Korean rice liquor.

On Friday, Associated Press photographers at an observation point on the northwest side of Yeonpyeong heard explosions and saw at least one flash of light on the North Korean mainland.

There were no immediate reports of damage. Only a few dozen residents remain on Yeonpyeong, with most of its population fleeing in the hours and days after the attack as authorities urged them to evacuate.

Many houses were burned out, half-collapsed or flattened, and the streets were littered with shattered windows, bent metal and other charred wreckage. Several stray dogs barked as they sat near destroyed houses. South Korean marines carrying M-16 rifles patrolled along a seawall at dawn.

About 200 South Koreans held a rally Friday in Seoul to denounce the government’s response to the attack as too weak. Similar recriminations have come from opposition lawmakers and even members of Lee’s own party, leading to the resignation of Defense Minister Kim Tae-young on Thursday.

There also has been intense criticism that Yeonpyeong was unprepared for the attack and that the return fire came too slowly. Lee named former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Kim Kwan-jin to the post, the president’s office said Friday.

While there is some shock at the extent of the damage the North Koreans were able to inflict, most South Koreans want the threat to be contained, not aggravated, and the government response has been muted and cautious, following an initial angry threat from Lee.

The president, dressed in a black suit, visited a military hospital in Seongnam near Seoul on Friday to pay his respects to the two marines killed in the North Korean attack.

Lee laid a white chrysanthemum, a traditional symbol of grief, on an altar, burned incense and bowed before framed photos of the two young men. Consoling sobbing family members, he vowed to build a stronger defense.

“I will make sure that this precious sacrifice will lay the foundation for the strong security of the Republic of Korea,” he wrote in a condolence book, according to his office.

South Korea assured a meeting of the European Olympic Committees on Friday that it would be able to ensure security at the 2018 Winter Games if it’s picked. The Pyeongchang 2018 bid committee presented its case Friday in Belgrade.

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Foster Klug reported from Seoul. AP writers Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Kwang-tae Kim, Kelly Olsen and Jean H. Lee in Seoul also contributed to this report.