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North Korea, which cites the U.S. military presence in South Korea as a main reason behind its drive to build atomic weapons, routinely calls the joint exercises between the allies a rehearsal for war.

Washington, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea to protect its ally, insists the routine drills were planned before last Tuesday’s attack.

The exercises will take place over four days, but no live-fire drills are planned, said Cmdr. Jeff Davis, spokesman for the 7th Fleet in Japan.

Along scenic Mallipo Beach on the west coast, about 50 South Korean soldiers were laying down an aluminum road to prepare for an amphibious landing drill Monday. Barbed wire and metal staves ran the length of the beach for about 2 miles. Military ships hovered in the distance.

North Korea expressed renewed outrage over the Yellow Sea drills.

The war games are a “pretext for aggression and ignite a war at any cost,” the National Peace Committee of Korea said in a statement carried Sunday by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Hours earlier, the rattle of new artillery fire from North Korea sent residents, journalists, police and troops scrambling for cover on Yeonpyeong Island. None of the rounds landed on the island, military officials said, but the incident showed how tense the situation remains.

Saying they could not guarantee the journalists’ safety, South Korea’s Defense Ministry sent a ship to ferry them off the island, but bad weather forced them to cancel the evacuation. About 380 people, including 28 islanders and 190 journalists, remained on Yeonpyeong on Sunday, officials said.

A similar burst of artillery fire Friday occurred just as the U.S. military’s top commander in the region, Gen. Walter Sharp, was touring Yeonpyeong Island. No shells landed anywhere in South Korean territory.

Calls for tougher action made way Sunday for pleas for peace among about 150 South Koreans who turned out for a vigil Sunday evening in a Seoul plaza, huddling with candles in paper cups and chanting, “Give us peace!”

“It was very shocking,” said Kang Hong-koo, 22, a student. “I’m here to appease the souls of the people who were killed in the North Korean attack. I hope the current tense situation is alleviated quickly.”

Jean H. Lee reported from Seoul. AP writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kelly Olsen in Seoul, photographer Wally Santana on Mallipo Beach, and Gillian Wong in Beijing contributed to this report.