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Europe agrees anti-terror laws



BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union has approved tough new anti-terrorist measures in the wake of the attacks on the United States.

EU justice and home affairs ministers approved a total of 37 proposals intended to stop terrorist groups from operating in the EU and to strengthen police and justice cooperation with the U.S.

They also agreed, at a meeting on Thursday, to close legal loopholes that allow terror suspects to evade arrest.

The new measures are expected to come into force January 1 after ratification by the union's 15 member parliaments.

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Belgian Interior Minister Antoine Duquesne, who chaired the meeting, said: "In fighting this scourge, what we need first of all (is) the clear political will, then joint action, not only with the United States but also with all our partners."

Key provisions include a European search and arrest warrant, which will mean suspects sought for terrorism in one EU state will be pursued by police in all 15, and streamlined extradition procedures so suspects will automatically be handed over to the country where they are wanted.

Other measures include a common definition of terrorist crimes and guidelines for sentencing convicted terrorists, including a minimum penalty of 20 years for terrorist murders.

Ministers also agreed to strengthen police links among EU countries and with the U.S. including setting up a powerful anti-terrorist unit within Europol, Europe's police investigations organisation.

Closing financial loopholes for funding terrorist networks is also being proposed, including added monitoring of banks, and stronger measures against money laundering.

Stringent border checks are also to go into force immediately as well as random internal border checks between EU nations.

British Home Secretary David Blunkett said: "The people we are dealing with are sophisticated, well organized and entirely ruthless, but they are also in a position to exploit the very freedoms we seek to protect."

In the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, EU governments are anxious to act.

As the ministers gathered in Belgium, a high-level EU delegation led by Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel was in Washington to discuss closer cooperation in intelligence and police work with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and other top U.S. officials.

EU leaders including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac are also consulting with Washington ahead of Friday's EU summit which will coordinate Europe's role in supporting the U.S. anti-terrorist campaign.

EU finance ministers will hold a separate meeting on Friday and Saturday to look at measures to control the flow of funds to international terror groups.

Until now, EU states have had different traditions on civil liberties and unequal experience in dealing with domestic guerrilla movements.

Currently only Germany, Italy, France, Britain, Portugal and Spain have statutes on terrorism in their criminal codes and cooperation among member states has been patchy.

France, for example, has long sheltered suspects sought by Italy for urban guerrilla attacks by the now-defunct Marxist Red Brigades movement in the 1970s.

British courts have frustrated French efforts since 1995 to obtain the extradition of suspected Algerian Islamic militant Rachid Ramda, wanted in connection with a wave of attacks in France in which eight people died and 200 were injured.





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