SEOUL: South Korean police said Monday they have foiled an Internet-based group suicide attempt, as media reports warned that the practice is spreading in the country.
Five people who had agreed online to kill themselves were stopped by police at a Seoul hotel on Sunday, Seodaemun district police said in a statement.
The group were allowed to return home but police said one may face a charge of abetting suicide since he opened a website on the subject.
In South Korea, aiding or encouraging suicide is punishable by up to 10 years in jail.
Police said they were stepping up clampdowns on "suicide" websites.
In the past three weeks, 14 people have been found dead in apparent group suicides in the sparsely populated eastern province of Gangwon, Yonhap news agency said Monday. Most inhaled toxic fumes from burning coal briquettes, it quoted police as saying.
"Group suicide is spreading and becoming a thorny issue nationwide," an unnamed police official told Yonhap. "We will tighten online surveillance and punish operators of suicide cafes without exception."
Those involved range from schoolchildren agonizing over poor academic performances to adolescents with failed love affairs and mid-life office workers burdened by huge debts, according to local media.
The government has been working on a package of measures to reduce the high suicide rate. South Korea ranked third in terms of suicides per head of population among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member nations in 2007, with 18.7 in every 100,000 South Koreans killing themselves.