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SEOUL: South Korea's population fell for the first time in 2020, with more people dying than were born, the government said Monday, warning that towns in poor regions faced a "crisis of extinction".

The world's 12th-largest economy has one of its longest life expectancies and one of its lowest birthrates, a combination that presents a looming demographic disaster. As of December 31, South Korea had 51,829,023 people, down 20,838 from a year earlier, according to data released by the interior ministry. Annual births have been falling for years and it added that they had been exceeded by deaths for the first time, 275,815 to 307,764.

"In regions with poor economic, medical and educational infrastructure, the crisis of the extinction of such towns is escalating," the ministry said.