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(LEAD) Gov't calls for parliamentary endorsement of anti-terrorism bills

All News 10:42 January 20, 2016

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; ADDS more information in 5-7 paras)

SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- The government renewed its call on Wednesday for the parliamentary approval of anti-terrorism bills to protect the lives of South Koreans, citing growing threats of terrorism both at home and abroad.

In addition to the first bill proposed by the government in 2011 following the 9/11 attacks, a number of anti-terrorism bills are currently pending in the National Assembly.

However, the bills have not yet been put to a full floor vote due to strong dissent from the opposition party on concerns about giving more authority to the National Intelligence Service (NIS), South Korea's top spy agency.

"There have been needless battles at the National Assembly for the past 15 years," said Kim Soo-min, a senior NIS official who participated in the government-ruling party meeting. "The anti-terrorism bills are designed to protect the lives of the people and should not be the subject of a bargaining tool."

The NIS told lawmakers that seven foreign nationals who previously worked in South Korea have since joined the Islamic State (IS), according to Rep. Lee Chul-woo.

The NIS also said a total of 51 foreigners who were either affiliated with international terrorist groups or appointed security risks have been arrested and deported, according to Lee.

"There are 155,000 people from 57 Muslim countries in this country and various circumstances show that our country is not safe from terrorist attacks anymore," Lee said.

The anti-terrorism bills have gained new momentum following the deadly attacks in Paris last year as the Saenuri Party and opposition parties agreed to begin discussions for the swift passage.

"Collecting information is vital to punishing those who take part in terrorist acts or organize or join terrorist groups," Kim said.

Kim refuted the claim that the bills infringe upon citizens' basic rights and that enhanced surveillance violates the right to privacy.

Second Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul, who participated in the meeting, also voiced that the passage of the bills is important, citing last week's attack by the IS in Jakarta.

"Preemptively detecting and preventing the threat should be viable in order to effectively deal with terrorist attacks," Cho said, adding that the bills would allow the government to come up with more elaborate countermeasures.

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