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France could defy critics and extend emergency powers

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Hollande set to ignore critics and extend state of emergency. Photo: AFP
11:04 CET+01:00
President François Hollande looks set to ignore criticism from UN and rights experts and extend the country's state of emergency beyond the deadline date for a third time.

France has come under increasing pressure to end the emergency powers, which have been deemed too excessive and contrary to the country's principle of liberté, by numerous groups.

But after a meeting with Hollande, Claude Bartolone, the president of the National Assembly told French media that the head of state will “very likely” ask parliament to extend the state of emergency beyond February 26th.

Hollande has said nothing publicly as to whether he intends to extend the powers, but a decision will be taken in a matter of days.

"The executive has not taken its decision but will take it in the coming days," said the statement from the presidency this week.

The state of emergency was imposed on November 13th, the night that 130 people were gunned down in Paris. It was initially only meant to be in place for 12 days, but parliament overwhelmingly backed an extension for a further three months.

The controversial powers granted to police include being able to place people under house arrest and carry out home searches without the usual judicial oversight.

Public gatherings were also banned and police have been given the power to carry their guns even when off duty.

The government also plans to make it easier to call a state of emergency and protect it from legal challenges by enshrining it in the constitution.

'A risk to democracy'

Nearly seven out of 10 French people said they supported a further extension beyond February, according to a YouGov poll for Huffington Post and iTele.

Although the French public might back the extension of the state of emergency, rights groups and UN experts have been damning in their appraisals.

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A further extension of the emergency powers by a Socialist government would provoke a storm of further criticism.

Council of Europe human rights observer Nils Muiznieks said the emergency powers constituted a "threat" to democracy.

On Wednesday the French Human Rights League said it had approached the country's highest court to end the state of emergency, which it said was no longer justified and "seriously impacts public freedoms".

On Tuesday a group of four United Nations rights specialists also called on France "not to extend the state of emergency".
 
In communication with Paris, the UN experts have "stressed the lack of clarity and precision of several provisions of the state of emergency and surveillance laws," a statement said.
 
The main concerns centre on the restrictions to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to privacy, it added.

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