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TERRORISM

French MPs set to ignore protests and back controversial anti-terror law

French lawmakers will vote on Tuesday on a tough new counter-terrorism law designed to end the country's two-year state of emergency, though critics say it will expand police powers at a cost to civil liberties.

French MPs set to ignore protests and back controversial anti-terror law
Photo: AFP

French lawmakers will vote Tuesday on a tough new counter-terrorism law designed to end the country's two-year state of emergency, though critics say it will expand police powers at a cost to civil liberties.

The vote follows a string of attacks in France since 2015 and comes just two days after more bloodshed, in the southern port city of Marseille when a suspected Islamist knifeman killed two women.

While Interior Minister Gerard Collomb has defended the bill as a “lasting response to a lasting threat”, it has come under fire from the French left and human rights groups.

“What makes us angry is that it's a state of emergency that would become permanent and roll back our freedoms,” Christine Lazerges, the head of the National Consultative Committee on Human Rights, a state body, said last week.

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The law, designed to replace the state of emergency that France has been under since attacks in Paris in November 2015, would come into force on November 1 if approved by both houses of parliament.

The lower house will vote Tuesday on the bill, which would give authorities the power to place people under house arrest, order house searches and ban public gatherings without the prior approval of a judge.

The state of emergency was meant to be temporary but has been extended six times in order to protect major sporting and cultural events, as well as this year's presidential and general elections.

The vote comes after a knifeman stabbed two women to death on Sunday at the main train station in Marseille shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”).

He was shot and killed by soldiers.

The stabbings bring to 241 the number of people killed in jihadist attacks in France since January 2015, while Collomb said last month that 12 planned attacks had been foiled so far this year.

In an environment of widespread fear about Islamist violence, extensions of the state of emergency have met with little public opposition, and surveys suggest most French people back the changes.



Freedoms 'eroded'

About 57 percent of respondents to a recent Fiducial/Odoxa poll said they were in favour of the bill, with 89 percent saying it would improve security
— even though 62 percent said it would undermine their freedoms.

Critics of the new law have been limited largely to leftist politicians and human rights groups, though UN experts also raised objections in a letter to the French government last week.

“Gradually our public freedoms… are being eroded,” said lawmaker Alexis Corbiere of the hard-left France Unbowed party last week.

But some lawmakers from the rightwing Republicans party as well as Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, have said the bill does not go far enough.

Macron, whose centrist party has a comfortable parliamentary majority, has promised that the legislation, which was approved by the Senate in July, will be reviewed in 2020.

TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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