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Ugandan Parliament Approves Anti-Terror Law

The Ugandan parliament has approved Wednesday a new anti-terrorism law that gives the government sweeping powers to clamp down on suspected terrorists.

One of the goals of the new anti-terrorism law is to finally bring an end to a series of bombings in bars and nightclubs in the country's capital, Kampala. At least 18 people have been killed and dozens injured by such attacks over the last five years.

Uganda's government believes rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces are to blame for the killings. But until now it has not had the legal muscle to deal with these terrorists.

A government lawyer, Mike Chibita, complains that in the past suspects would often jump bail and resume their activities. Under the new law, he says, suspected terrorists will not be eligible for bail.

"The provision for bail is now not applicable so it makes it harder for the suspects to be able to go and continue their acts," he said. "Then, two, the law also provides for the government being able to declare any one organization a terrorist organization so there are some things they can do which are pre-emptive."

These pre-emptive measures include seizure of the organization's assets and the ability to arrest and detain suspects outside normal legal procedures.

Human rights groups have expressed concern about the sweeping powers given the government under the new law. They also fear the government of President Yoweri Museveni could misuse them. His opponents have frequently complained of state harassment, particularly during last year's presidential elections.

Mr. Chibita says the government will not use the new law to persecute its political rivals.

"There is a big difference between a terrorist organization and a political party definitely," he said. "If a political organization really fears that [it] could be called terrorist, then there must be something wrong with [it] really."

Under the new law, convicted terrorists will be given death sentence.