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Russia's New Anti-Terrorism Law Comes into Force


A new anti-terrorism law comes into force in Russia this week that, among other things, allows the country's military to fire on passenger planes or ships hijacked by terrorists. It also permits negotiations with terrorists who have taken hostages, but bars consideration of their political demands.

The counter-terrorism bill signed into law this week was approved in its first reading just three months after the September, 2004, Beslan school attack, in which more than 330 mostly child hostages died.

But the bill was stalled for more than a year after being strongly criticized by rights groups and the Kremlin over concerns it would infringe upon civil liberties and give too much power to law enforcement and security agencies.

Some of those concerns remain today, as well as doubt over whether the new law will really be effective in fighting terrorism, which President Vladimir Putin has called the scourge of the 21st century.

Independent military expert Alexander Golts is among the critics of the new law. He says it is too bureaucratic in nature and fails to provide a concrete definition of what constitutes a terrorist act.

Golts says, as he sees it, the new law also fails to provide any real mechanisms for resisting terrorism.

Others, like independent political analyst Anton Oreh argue that there will not be enough time to shoot down planes suspected of terrorist aims, as he notes major sites, such as the Kremlin, are only a few minutes flight from Moscow's multiple airports. He says the same situation applies to St. Petersburg, a city of rich cultural treasures.

As such, Oreh told Russia's Echo Moscow radio that the country should focus more attention on preventative counter-terrorism methods, rather than defensive combat actions.

But Duma Security Committee member Gennady Gudkov says he has faith the new law will make Russia safer in the face of terrorist threats.

Gudkov says the task of any law is creating certain conditions. All the rest, he adds, depends on proper execution.

Other pro-Kremlin lawmakers praise the bill for introducing an element of personal responsibility for officials handling anti-terrorist operations, which they say was lacking at Beslan. They also argue that Russia's new law limits civil rights to a lesser degree than similar legislation in the west.

Earlier, the Council of Europe suggested it might analyze whether Russia's new anti-terrorism law is, quote, unconstitutional.

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