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World - Africa

Flamethrower now an option on S. African cars

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December 11, 1998
Web posted at: 10:16 p.m. EDT (0216 GMT)

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- Crime-obsessed South Africans have a powerful new weapon with which to stop likely criminals: the car flamethrower.

Casting a man-high fireball, reportedly with no damage to the paint, the Blaster has been placed on 25 South African vehicles since its introduction last month.

At 3,900 rand ($655), it offers a cheap, dramatic defense against carjackers. It has yet to be deemed illegal.

South African courts allow killing if convinced that it's in self-defense. The defense is not unheard of. In last year's 13,000 carjackings, criminals often brandished weapons or used them with little provocation.

The Blaster squirts liquefied gas from a bottle in the automobile's trunk through two nozzles, located under the front doors. The gas is then ignited by an electric spark, with fiery consequences.

Both sides flame at the same time, regardless of whether the attack is coming from just one side of the vehicle, or whether passersby are on the other side. But the breadth and depth of blast can be modified according to individual preference.

Fire blinds, not kills, maker assures

Blaster inventor Charl Fourie, 33, disputed concerns that the flamethrower could burn someone to death.

"My personal feeling is that it would definitely blind a person. He will never see again," he said

Firefighters, medical personnel and the police agree 100 percent "that it will never kill a person," Fourie asserted. "This is definitely non-lethal.... A person is not going to stand there for a minute while you roast him. It will fend off the attacker, and that's the end of it."

Fourie has filed an international patent application. He anticipates thousands of orders nationally and from abroad. "The demand is huge," he said.

First customer a Johannesburg police official

The first buyer, Police Superintendent David Walkley of Johannesburg's crime intelligence unit, is satisfied the Blaster is legal, provided it is used correctly.

"It depends entirely on the circumstances and whether you can justify self-defense," he said.

"Yes, there are certain risks in using it, but there are also risks in not having anything at all."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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