SEOUL (AFP) - The South Korean capital Seoul has installed anti-suicide monitoring devices on bridges over the city's Han river after 196 people jumped to their deaths last year, officials said on Thursday.
The new initiative - in a country with the highest suicide rate among leading developed nations - incorporates closed-circuit television cameras programmed to recognise motions that suggest somebody might be preparing to jump from a bridge.
Detection of a potential suicide sounds an automatic alarm which would result in emergency services and counsellors being dispatched to the location in three minutes.
"The new system has been put in place on two bridges," a city official in charge of the project told AFP. "We will expand the system to the other Han River bridges if testing until March proves effective."
One of the initial two locations is the Mapo Bridge, a suicide hot spot chosen by nearly 90 per cent of the 196 people who leaped to their deaths from bridges last year, a figure up sharply from 57 in 2003.
In an earlier attempt to address the growing number of suicides, the municipal government posted signs along the Mapo Bridge last September with messages including "The best part of your life is yet to come" and "Worries are nothing".
In the middle of the bridge it placed a statue of an older man comforting a worried-looking younger one, pinching his cheek and placing a protective arm on his shoulders.
Suicide, fuelled by intense pressure for academic and career achievement, has become a perennial blight on a country whose rapid economic development has otherwise raised living standards and encouraged social mobility.
South Korea has the highest suicide rate among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with an average of 33.5 people per 100,000 taking their lives in 2010, far higher than Hungary (23.3) and Japan (21.2) which ranked second and third.
The figure for South Korea equates to nearly 50 suicides a day and shows a steep increase from 2000 when the average incidence of suicide was 13.6 people