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South Korea to start production of anti-aircraft laser weapon

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Seoul, July 11 (IANS) South Korea will begin production of a laser weapon designed to strike down enemy drones for deployment this year, the defence procurement agency said Thursday, in a push to become the first country to operate such a weapon.

Last month, the Defence Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) signed a deal worth about 100 billion won ($72 million) with South Korean defence company Hanwha Aerospace for its production amid efforts to acquire advanced weapons systems, Yonhap news agency reported.

The laser weapon is capable of defending against small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and multi-copters at close range by firing a laser-generated using fiber optics, according to DAPA.

It can fire a laser beam for about 10 to 20 seconds, raising a targeted area’s temperature to over 700 C and disabling internal components, such as an engine or a battery, DAPA spokesperson Jo Yong-jin said in a briefing.

The weapon system can operate as long as electricity is supplied, and a single firing is estimated to cost only about 2,000 won, DAPA said, noting the laser is not visible and does not produce any sound.

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“Cost per fire is extremely cheap compared with other guided weapons,” Jo said. “Responses to low-cost strike assets and weapons, such as small drones, will be able to take place very effectively and efficiently.”

He declined to offer further details of the weapon’s capabilities, citing operational security.

If the system is deployed as planned late this year, South Korea will become the first known country in the world to have its military operate such a laser weapon, according to DAPA.

It said the system could become a “game changer” in future warfare if its output is increased to respond to threats posed by ballistic missiles and larger-sized aircraft.

The production comes after South Korea began developing the laser weapon in 2019, investing a total of 87.1 billion won in the project. The system was assessed as combat-suitable in April last year after undergoing successful live-fire tests.

DAPA said it plans to develop an improved version with enhanced output and range.

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The military has sought to beef up its response capabilities against small UAVs after five North Korean drones intruded across the inter-Korean border in December 2022.

–IANS

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11 dead due to landslide in Vietnam

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Hanoi, July 14 (IANS) At least 11 people on board a minibus died after being buried by a landslide in Vietnam’s northern province of Ha Giang while four others were critically injured, according to the latest update by the stste media reports.

When the vehicle was trapped by a landslide on a road in Bac Me district, all the people on board got out for help. The minibus was reportedly carrying around 16 people.

Thousands of cubic metres of soil from above poured onto the road, burying all the people, Xinhua news agency reported.

According to the National Centre for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting, rainfall in the area where the accident happened early Saturday morning was recorded at 280-290 mm from 7 p.m. on Friday until 7 a.m. on Saturday.

Natural disasters in Vietnam left 68 people dead or missing and injured 56 others in the first six months of this year, said the General Statistics Office.

The total property losses incurred were more than 1.7 trillion Vietnamese dong ($66.9 million), which was 2.5 times higher than the same period last year.

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–IANS

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7 killed by wildfires in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province

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Johannesburg, July 14 (IANS) Seven people were killed this past week and 196 homes have been completely destroyed as a result of raging wildfires in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Province, the provincial government said.

The wildfires that started a week ago have affected a total of 751 people, and have damaged farms and homes in districts, including King Cetshwayo, Ilembe, uThukela and Zululand, the Provincial Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs said on Saturday in a statement.

More than 14,000 hectares of grazing land have been destroyed by the fires with 1,600 animals lost, the department added as reported by Xinhua news agency.

The number of houses destroyed is increasing as the wildfires are going on, according to Siboniso Duma, an official from the Provincial Council of Transport and Human Settlements, who added that they are still working to profile affected families.

–IANS

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8 killed in prison break shootout in Somalia

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Mogadishu, July 14 (IANS) Five inmates and three soldiers were killed, and 18 other prisoners were wounded after heavy gunfire broke out between security forces and prisoners who had attempted to escape in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia.

The spokesperson for Custodial Corps Command Abdiqani Mohamed Khalaf said on Saturday that three soldiers were also injured during the operation, Xinhua news agency reported.

The inmates, members of the al-Shabab militant group that had acquired some weapons and hand grenades, launched a bid to escape from Hamar Central Prison, prompting a shootout between the prison officers and the inmates.

The prison authorities said they are investigating how the inmates acquired weapons and hand grenades to launch such daring escapes.

“The security forces completed operations against al-Shabab members, the situation is calm at the moment and the forces eliminated all five prisoners. We have started investigations into the incident,” he said in a statement issued in Mogadishu.

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Al-Shabab militants did not comment on the latest attack on the Hamar Central Prison.

This is the second such deadly attack on the prison in Mogadishu by the group’s inmates.

The attack comes after nearly three months of relative peace in Mogadishu.

–IANS

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Strong efforts required to release demographic dividend as Africa's population crosses 1.5 bn: UNECA

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Addis Ababa, July 14 (IANS) As Africa’s population crosses the 1.5 billion mark and the demographic window is opening, social policy experts at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) stressed that getting the dividend requires more time and stronger efforts.

The latest call followed the publication of the World Population Prospects and Forecast that was released by the United Nations on World Population Day, which is annually observed on July 11, Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.

Noting that the world’s population has witnessed tremendous growth in the last six decades, in which the global population was around three billion in 1960, the report indicated that in just two decades (by 1982), it had surpassed five billion and since November 2022 there are more than eight billion people in the world.

Social policy experts at the UNECA, in a situation analysis report on Africa’s population prospects issued on Friday, said the African continent has been at the centre of the global population growth, as the continent accounts for the largest relative growth, with its population expanding from 283 million in 1960 to more than 1.5 billion in 2024, a more than five-fold increase. And it is projected to increase by 950 million and touch 2.5 billion by 2050.

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The growing population will increase Africa’s share of the world’s population from 10 per cent in 1960 to 28 per cent by 2050. Globally, more than one in four people will be African in 2050, from one in 10 in 1960, it was noted.

According to the publication, among the reasons for Africa’s rapid population growth is the declining rate of infant mortality across Africa. Data from the UNECA show that infant mortality has declined from 145 per 1,000 children born in 1960 to 38 per 1,000 children born in 2024. As a result, average life expectancy in Africa increased from 43 years to 66 years during the reported period and is projected to increase to 70 years by 2050.

In 1960, on average a woman in Africa had 6.6 children over her lifetime. This has progressively reduced to 3.8 in 2024 and is expected to decline further to 2.6 by 2050. Overall, and compared to other regions of the world, fertility rates in Africa remain high and are declining only gradually.

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The UNECA report indicated that Africa’s future is bright with the potential to realise a demographic transition and a large demographic dividend by the middle of this century.

It, however, raised a critical question as to what it takes for countries in Africa to achieve the age structure necessary for the demographic dividend, and under what conditions this age structure can catalyse the continent’s economic growth.

These are important policy questions since as promising as it sounds, a demographic dividend is by no means guaranteed. How well countries capitalise on the demographic window has a lot to do with appropriate policies and the strength of institutions, social policy experts at the UNECA said.

They said that for fertility rates to decline and the age structure to change, working-age individuals need high-quality education and decent and productive jobs. Countries must invest in the education and health of the workforce, particularly where the demographic window of opportunity is still more than a decade away.

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–IANS

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South Sudan secures $46 mn grant to improve agriculture, food security

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Juba, July 14 (IANS) African Development Bank Group (AfDB) has said it has approved a $46.2 million grant for South Sudan to boost agricultural productivity, improve food security and enhance the country’s resilience.

The AfDB, a financial provider to African governments and private companies investing in the regional member countries, said the first phase of the climate resilient agri-food system transformation programme in South Sudan is set to be implemented from September 2024 to December 2030, Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.

Themba Bhebhe, the Bank Group’s Country Manager for South Sudan, said in a statement issued in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, on Friday evening that the program’s activities will help boost productivity and produce an additional 350,000 tonnes of cereals (rice and sorghum) and 2,450 tonnes of fish.

“They will strengthen agricultural value chains and entrepreneurship, creating at least 200 more agri-food businesses that are more profitable for women and young people,” Bhebhe added.

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He emphasised that developing digitalisation and professional skills will create 179,200 direct jobs, including 50 per cent for women and 60 per cent for young people.

South Sudan is the third most fragile country in the world and the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change globally, AfDB said.

Agriculture, the primary source of income for about 95 per cent of the South Sudanese population, employs around 70.5 per cent of the country’s labour force.

Despite 95 per cent of the land being suitable for agriculture, only 4.5 per cent is currently utilised.

The project comprises four main components: large-scale deployment of climate-smart technologies and production systems; strengthening the priority value chains of businesses led by women and young people; promoting digital agricultural and climate advisory solutions; and developing professional, technical and entrepreneurial skills to create more jobs for women and young people.

The program will span nine counties and 32 payams (subcommittees or districts) in four states: Bahr el Ghazal in the north, Eastern Equatoria, Central Equatoria and Jonglei.

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The program will be implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, in a hybrid implementation arrangement that gradually builds national capacity for project management.

The country’s numerous rivers and lakes also offer abundant fish resources and untapped irrigation potential.

Despite this potential, South Sudan faces severe food insecurity, with more than 7.1 million people struggling to access sufficient and nutritious food, AfDB added.

–IANS

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