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Sweeping measures to deal with terrorist attacks and other emergencies are to be announced this week, giving the Government power to over-ride civil liberties in times of crisis, and evacuate threatened areas, restrict people's movements and confiscate property.
The Civil Contingencies Bill, which covers every kind of disaster from terrorism to the weather, will be the biggest shake-up of emergency laws since the early part of the last century, replacing legislation which saw the UK through a world war and the IRA bombing campaign.
Some of the proposals in the draft version of the Bill, drawn up in the summer, have alarmed civil rights activists, notably a clause that gives the Government the power to suspend parts or all of the Human Rights Act without a vote by MPs.
Once an emergency has been proclaimed by the Queen, the Government can order the destruction of property, order people to evacuate an area or ban them from travelling, and "prohibit assemblies of specified kinds" and "other specified activities".
If these rules had been in force during the Iraq war, critics say, they could have been used to to ban street demonstrations, making anyone who travelled to protest guilty of a criminal offence. After a major terrorist attack, forums made up of local councils, the emergency services and utility companies would be put in charge of trying to get shattered communities back together.
Other measures will be welcomed as a timely reaction to last week's carnage in Istanbul, where 57 people were killed and hundreds injured by suicide bombers.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday gave the official death toll from Thursday's attacks on two British targets as 30, 10 of whom died in the British consulate. He also confirmed that the four suicide bombers responsible for all four attacks were Turkish citizens, and revealed that 18 people have been arrested in connection with the bombings. Three groups linked to al-Qa'ida have claimed responsibility.
Although party political wrangling in Britain is often suspended after a tragedy on this scale, the pressure on Tony Blair showed no sign of letting up yesterday. Patrick Mercer, Conservative spokesman on homeland security, accused the Government of failing to take the terrorist threat seriously.
"Why wasn't our consulate in Istanbul shifted? It was attacked earlier on in the year, the same time as the American consulate was attacked. The Americans moved theirs to a less vulnerable position, we didn't," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
He added: "I do wonder slightly why if, for instance, you go to London, the only building that seems to be taking the suicide bombing threat particularly seriously is the US embassy."
David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, defended government actions saying: "While we must be vigilant, and of course defend our own staff and those using the consulates and embassies, we also have to exercise a degree of common sense. It is very good intelligence that actually saves you in the end, not massive concrete blocks around every piece of British territory abroad."
The US already has the Patriot Act, rushed through Congress after the 11 September attacks, which has been criticised for its effect on civil liberties. Such fears will have been heightened yesterday by General Tommy Franks, who commanded the coalition troops in Iraq and who has become the first high-ranking US official to talk openly about scrapping the Constitution in the wake of a major terrorist attack.
"The worst thing that could happen is if terrorists acquire and then use a biological, chemical or nuclear weapon that inflicts heavy casualties," he warned.
The effect of an attack on that scale could be to provoke Americans to "question our own Constitution and to begin to militarise our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event - which in fact, then begins to unravel the fabric of our Constitution," he said.
Meanwhile the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, has announced that he has abandoned any plans to host European summits next year, because it would be a security "nightmare". He said, in Brussels: "It's too costly, too disruptive and quite dangerous."
The Civil Contingencies Bill, which is being handled by the Cabinet Office minister Douglas Alexander, will be announced in Wednesday's Queen's Speech. More details will be made public on Friday, when a committee off MPs and peers publish their conclusions after four months examining the proposals.
Civil liberties groups have been alarmed by the Cabinet Office's sweeping definition of an "emergency" and the powers it confers. It is defined as any event that represents a serious threat to the welfare of the population, the environment, political or economic stability or security of any part of the UK. This includes wars, floods, a breakdown of power supplies, outbreaks of animal diseases or any situation that "causes or may cause disruption of the activities of Her Majesty's Government".
Gareth Crossman of Liberty said: "We are not saying that the Government shouldn't have powers to deal with civil emergencies, or that they shouldn't be brought up to date, but we are concerned that they have been extremely broadly drawn."
-------------------- The above is an extract from my fictional novel, "The random postings of Edame".
In the beginning was the word. And man could not handle the word, and the hearing of the word, and he asked God to take away his ears so that he might live in peace without having to hear words which might upset his equinamity or corrupt the unblemished purity of his conscience.
And God, hearing this desperate plea from His creation, wrinkled His mighty brow for a moment and then leaned down toward man, beckoning that he should come close so as to hear all that was about to be revealed to him.
"Fuck you," He whispered, and frowned upon the pathetic supplicant before retreating to His heavens.
It's really dispiriting hearing Blair spouting the tired old "tough-guy" garbage about "We will not give an inch". We heard the same bullshit for years with the IRA. 20 years later, the same american funded terrorists we were "never going to back down from" are regulars in Downing street and the UK taxpayer pays their wages.
Funnily enough, the terrorism has stopped too.
What has the war on terror consisted of? Invading Afghanistan after an attack by Saudi nationals (surely the most illogical war ever) and the invasion of Iraq which has been the best recruiting campaign the terrorists could ever dream of. We've tried the tough-guy stuff and as with the IRA it's failed miserably. Maybe it's time to do something really "weak" and help create a Palestinian state. Something that will actually help fight the war on terror.
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