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UK MPs vote for anti-terror bill

MPs voted overwhelmingly for the anti-terrorist bill despite strong reservations  

LONDON, England -- British politicians have voted in favour of a tough new anti-terrorist bill despite opposition from civil liberties groups.

Politicians in the House of Commons voted 458 to five in the second reading of the Anti-Terrorism, Security and Crime Bill on Monday.

The bill, being pushed through parliament by Home Secretary David Blunkett, would give authorities the power to detain suspect terrorists indefinitely without trial.

It also aims to tighten airport security, freeze suspected terrorists' funds and create a new offense of incitement to religious hatred.

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Europe debates anti-terror laws 

The government came under attack from some of its own Labour Party members during the debate on Monday.

MP Brian Sedgemore said the bill was "a ragbag of the most coercive measures."

"Not since the panic and hysteria that overcame the British establishment in the aftermath of the French Revolution has this House seen such Draconian legislation," he said.

The opposition Conservatives, on the other hand, broadly supported the bill. The party's home-affairs spokesman Oliver Letwin said the opposition was prepared to "trust" the government.

"These are dangerous times ... and there are loopholes in our national security," he added.

Blunkett said the legislation was a "rational, reasonable and proportionate response" to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

"Circumstances and public opinion demanded urgent and appropriate action after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," he added.

Opposition is set to get tougher as the bill goes forward to committee stage and the House of Lords before going in front of the Commons for another vote.

Some human rights lawyers have said a proposal in the bill that would allow the government to detain people indefinitely without trial could be illegal if enacted.

The provision applies to terror suspects who are not British citizens and whose lives would be endangered if they were deported to another country.

The British government is looking for an opt-out on part of the European Convention on Human Rights so it can accommodate the bill's provisions.

Civil rights campaigners argue the British government is wrongly trying to exploit Article 15 of the European convention, which allows an opt-out "in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation in extraordinary circumstances."

In a written legal opinion for civil liberties group Liberty, human rights lawyer David Pannick said Britain's circumstances did not satisfy this condition.

"There has been no terrorist incidents in this country associated with the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington," Pannick said in the report.

Opponents say if the bill becomes law, Britain would join Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Syria and Uganda as countries which allow arbitrary internment, The Associated Press reported.

The House of Commons' influential Home Affairs Select Committee said the bill was being rushed through Parliament too quickly for adequate scrutiny to take place.

The committee's chairman, Chris Mullin, said the panel was concerned about a provision of the bill which would make it a crime to incite religious hatred.

The government, hoping to push the bill through before Christmas, has given politicians just three days of debate.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes told the Commons debate that "16 hours maximum for a bill of this size is just not realistically possible or even justifiable, however exceptional the circumstances".

Internment without trial was used against Northern Ireland terrorist suspects between 1971 and 1975.

Hundreds of people, almost all of them Catholic, were arrested. Reginald Maudling, the politician who introduced the policy, said later it was "by almost universal consent an unmitigated disaster."

Internment also was used against German citizens during World War II.


• Prodi calls for EU unity on terror
November 15, 2001
• Germany tightens security net
October 28, 2001
• France toughens antiterror laws
November 1, 2001

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