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(LEAD) Parliament passes anti-terrorism bill after 15 yrs

All Headlines 23:20 March 02, 2016

(ATTN: CHANGES headline; ADDS more details in 4, 8-9, 12 paras, and photo)

SEOUL, March 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's ruling-party controlled parliament passed a long-stalled anti-terrorism bill Wednesday amid possible terror threats from North Korea.

The government-backed bill, which bypassed the normal process and was taken to the floor by the assembly speaker, passed through the National Assembly's plenary session by 156-1 with zero abstentions.

The ruling Saenuri Party controls 157 seats in the 293-member National Assembly, compared to 107 seats held by the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea which had staged a filibuster for more than a week to stall the bill's passage.

All opposition lawmakers walked out of the National Assembly chamber just minutes before the bill was put to a vote.

Since the first draft bill was filed with the National Assembly in November 2001 following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, no headway was made until now.

The bill was scrapped every time during previous parliaments due to concern over breaches of privacy such as allowing the National Intelligence Service (NIS), South Korea's top spy agency, to collect personal data on anyone suspected of posing a threat to national security.

Under the passed bill, an anti-terrorism center will be set up under the Prime Minister's Office, but the NIS will have the power to gather the relevant information on possible terrorists.

Also, those convicted of organizing terrorist groups will face the maximum penalty of a death sentence and those helping the groups will be sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to the bill.

The bill stipulates that financial authorities are authorized to halt and restrict the financial transactions of anyone suspected to have financed terrorist activities both at home and abroad.

The bill has recently gained new momentum following North Korea's nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

President Park Geun-hye repeatedly expressed concerns on possible terror attacks, urging bipartisan cooperation for the endorsement of the bill meant to better protect the lives of South Koreans.

The Seoul government welcomed the passage, saying that it will beef up cooperation with the international community to better cope with terrorist threats.

khj@yna.co.kr
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