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Emergency powers 'helped foil a terror attack': French PM

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Emergency powers 'helped foil a terror attack': French PM
Photo: AFP
11:30 CET+01:00
France's lawmakers began debating constitutional changes on Friday allowing for dual nationals to lose their French citizenship in terrorism cases and enshrining in the text controversial measures put in place after the November attacks in Paris.

The shootings and suicide bombings in the French capital that left 130 dead and were claimed by the Islamic State group caused a radical rethink of security measures in France.

President Francois Hollande imposed a state of emergency in the wake of the carnage, 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.

"What the French demand is that we do everything for their protection... The fight against this radicalization will be the work of a generation," Prime Minister Manuel Valls told parliament.

He claimed that one attack had been foiled since the state of emergency was imposed - a reference to a 27-year-old Chechen arrested in December in the town of Tours, who had featured in a video threatening to attack police.

"Networks have been disrupted. Numerous individuals have been identified and placed under surveillance," Valls said.

As is the case now, parliament would still need to give its approval for a state of emergency lasting more than 12 days.

Valls said a state of emergency would last for a maximum of four months under the new rules, 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 who argue it gives draconian powers to the security services and erodes citizens' rights.

Only four legal processes

The French Human Rights League (LDH), 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 post-attacks state of emergency.

Several thousand people marched through Paris and other cities on Saturday to protest the measures and a demonstration is expected to be held in front of the National Assembly building during Friday's debate.

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

The second major amendment to be debated on Friday-- the proposal to strip dual citizens of their French nationality if they are convicted in terror cases - has sparked protests at home and abroad and led to the resignation of Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who openly opposed the measure.

"I hope the stripping of nationality will not be written into the constitution," Taubira, a popular figure on the left of the Socialist Party, told Le Monde newspaper on Tuesday.

"I sincerely hope that the Left will not have to take such a decision."

Lawmakers are scheduled to vote on the reform package on Wednesday, but if it is passed it will then embark on a long journey of further examination, beginning in the upper house, the Senate.

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