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(LEAD) Legislative battles brew as extra parliamentary session begins

All Headlines 15:37 January 30, 2018

(ATTN: REWRITES lead; CHANGES photo; UPDATES throughout; TRIMS)

SEOUL, Jan. 30 (Yonhap) -- The National Assembly on Tuesday kicked off a monthlong extraordinary session with rival parties bracing for legislative battles over a series of pending bills, a constitutional revision and other political issues.

The parties first passed a set of bills aimed at bolstering the country's firefighting capabilities in the wake of last week's hospital fire in the southeastern city of Miryang that killed 39 people.

Policy speeches by the leaders of three major parties are set for Wednesday through Friday, while the parliamentary interpellation of the government will take place from Feb. 5-7. The legislature will hold plenary sessions on Feb. 20 and 28 to pass pending bills.

During the session, the ruling Democratic Party hopes to pass an array of bills designed to enhance people's livelihoods, including those concerning the protection of small enterprises and merchants from unfair business practices.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and People's Party seek to pass a set of long-stalled bills aimed at creating regulation-free zones to foster new growth engines and developing service industries.

During the session, the rewrite of the decades-old Constitution is likely to put the rival parties on a collision course.

The parties largely share the need to alter the charter to address the current concentration of powers in a single leader, which has long been blamed for abuse of power, corruption and political polarization. But they have yet to build consensus over when and how to revise the law.

Marking the opening of the session, National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun renewed his call for a broad amendment.

"(Through the revision), we have to strengthen people's rights and regional autonomy, and diffuse presidential powers to ensure a normal separation of three powers," Chung said.

National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun presides over a parliamentary plenary session at the National Assembly's main chamber in Seoul on Jan. 30, 2018. (Yonhap)

Earlier this month, President Moon Jae-in called on the parties to reach an agreement on the revision by late February, table their revision motion in March and agree to hold a plebiscite on the issue at the same time as the June local elections. But the LKP disagrees with the proposed schedule.

A constitutional amendment requires approval from two-thirds of all 299 lawmakers in the unicameral parliament and a majority of voters in a referendum.

Another bone of contention is the government's push to reform powerful state organizations, such as the prosecution and spy agency, which have long been accused of political bias, power abuse and corruption. Rival parties remain apart over how to revamp them.


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