Reuters International

By Gabriela Baczynska

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - European Union interior ministers on Friday endorsed tighter rules for purchase and possession of guns in the bloc, a response to the Islamist attacks in Paris and Brussels that was diluted to exempt groups from shooting clubs to collectors.

The deal adds further weapons to a list of those banned from civilian possession, introduces joint rules to prevent deactivated guns being made operational again and improves identification markings.

The agreement would "improve the security of European citizens in the face of the terrorist threat and organised crime," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

Paris pushed for a crackdown on guns in Europe after men armed with Kalashnikov rifles attacked the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in January, 2015, killing 11 people, and Islamists killed 130 people in attacks in the French capital last November.

The new rules tighten online sales of arms and components, restrict inheritance rules and ban civilian possession of most semi-automatic firearms.

But Finland, the Baltic states and non-EU Switzerland, which is, however, included in the EU measures, were among countries to win exemptions for sports people, hunters, collectors, museums and national militias.

Countries critical of the proposal said it unduly punished legal gun owners while doing little to clamp down on illegal weapons.

Poland and the Czech Republic remained opposed to the agreement on Friday but unanimity was not required for it to be passed. It will now go to the European Parliament and Slovakia, which takes over the EU's rotating presidency for six months from July, aims to finalise it by the end of 2016.

Diplomats from countries seeking more ambitious changes warned they should not be further diluted by the gun lobby's influence in the European Parliament or by Slovakia, which still sees the rules as too restrictive.

Luxembourg also spoke against the agreement on Friday but for different reasons - Justice Minister Felix Braz said the exceptions went too far.

"I think we have not managed to achieve the main objective of this reform. The restrictions on the acquisition and possession of extremely dangerous weapons are not enough. The main goal was to achieve a uniformed EU regime and this goal is no longer guaranteed," he said.

(Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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