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France starts to examine new terror legislation

media French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb (C) visits the headquarters of the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN), the elite tactical unit of the Gendarmerie, on September 20, 2017 in Satory, west of Paris. AFP/Thomas Samson

French MPs started to debate President Emmanuel Macron’s anti-terrorism bill on Monday, with a big divide between those on the right who want the bill to go further, and voices from the left saying it will create a “permanent state of emergency”.

Macron’s government has argued that the legislation is necessary because France’s state of emergency cannot be “renewed indefinitely”.

It has been in force since the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks – and was renewed for a sixth time in July, extending it until the end of October.

That will make this France’s longest state of emergency since the Algerian War of Independence.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb insisted that the legislation would end the state of emergency at the same time as keeping powers to “protect our fellow citizens from terrorism” while “the threat remains strong”.

He also said that “long-term policies were needed to “permanently eradicate the influence of the Islamic State armed group.

The bill aims to put aspects of the temporary state of emergency onto the statute books. Authorities would keep their powers to search property, put terrorist suspects under house arrest and shut down places of worship linked to terrorism.

Parliament will review these powers in 2020 in light of the “evolving situation”.

But opposition parties – in particular the conservative Les Républicains (LR) and hard left La France Insoumise (LFI) – have tabled a total of 480 amendments to the bill, to be debated from Monday until Thursday ahead of a vote on 3 October.

Many MPs from Macron’s La République En Marche (LREM) support the bill. One said that the bill is “responsible and courageous” and therefore the party will only make a few minor changes.

There is some dissent within LREM, however, with MP Alain Tourret saying that he is “perturbed” by legislation he sees as “curbing spaces of freedom”.

Another LREM deputy said that the opposition to the bill will come not from within the governing party but from “groups like La France Insoumise, which see the bill as killing freedom”.

Meanwhile, numerous French magistrates and lawyers have expressed concerns about the bill, including criminal lawyer Henri Leclerc, who penned an op-ed in left-wing newspaper Libération on Monday railing against Macron’s legislation for creating “a law of suspects”.

Kartik Raj, Western Europe researcher for Human Rights Watch, argued that the bill takes state of emergency powers “that have been used abusively”, and “makes them normal criminal and administrative practice”.

On the other hand, many on the French right see the proposed laws as too weak. “The threat has never been so strong” and the government’s “answer is to say: ‘and we lower our guard’”, said Christian Jacob, LR leader in the National Assembly.

The hard right National Front went further, with leader Marine Le Pen calling the bill “defensive and soft”.

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