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General

Assembly votes to write state of emergency into constitution

media Anti-riot police stand guard on the place de la Concorde, on February 3, 2016 in Paris ADP/File

The lower house of the French parliament voted Monday in favour of enshrining in the constitution the process of declaring a state of national emergency, one of a series of controversial amendments the government proposed after November's Paris attacks.

The measure -- which gives the state increased security powers -- was voted through by 103 to 26, although it met opposition from some leftwing lawmakers and some deputies from the right.

The overwhelming vote in favour is the first in a series of steps before the constitution is finally revised.

President François Hollande imposed a state of emergency in the wake of the jihadist attacks that killed 130 people in the capital on November 13, giving police and security forces sweeping powers to raid houses and hold people under house arrest without judicial oversight.

His Socialist government now wants to include the state of emergency -- created during the Algerian war in 1955 -- into France's cherished constitution, citing what it sees as a persistent threat from jihadism.

The current three-month state of emergency expires on February 26 and is expected to be extended, giving the government time to adopt its constitutional reforms.

November's shootings and suicide bombings, which were claimed by the Islamic State group, caused a radical rethink of security measures in France.

The most controversial of the post-attack proposals would make it possible for dual nationals to be stripped of their French citizenship in terrorism cases, a plan that sparked the resignation of justice minister Christiane Taubira last month.

Under the proposed changes, parliament would need to give its approval for a state of emergency lasting more than 12 days, as is the case now.

The state of emergency could last for a maximum of four months, after which it would need to be renewed by parliament.

Including the measure in the constitution protects it from legal challenges, as has already been attempted by rights groups that argue it gives draconian powers to the security services and erodes citizens' rights.

The French Human Rights League, one of many bodies now questioning the efficacy of the harsher measures, said recently that only four legal procedures relating to terrorism had emerged from more than 2,500 police raids carried out under the current state of emergency since November.
 

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