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British Official Calls for Tough New Anti-Terror Powers - 2004-02-25

Britain's Home Secretary David Blunkett is calling for tougher new powers to combat terrorism. But he acknowledged in parliament that finding the right balance between greater vigilance and safeguarding civil liberties would not be easy.

David Blunkett said he believes a terror attack in Britain is inevitable. He said it is not a question if such an attack will happen, but rather when it might occur.

In the House of Commons, the home secretary outlined a number of options he would like to see debated in the coming months aimed at reducing the chances of a terror attack taking place.

Among the measures he proposed are extending detention periods for terror suspects, the establishment of secret trials without juries, wider use of phone tap evidence, and a lower standard of proof for convictions.

Mr. Blunkett says these measures are necessary. "The challenge that I think we were faced with post-the 11th of September, 2001, and we are faced again with, in debating this in the months ahead, is how we can deal with a circumstance where we are not picking up prosecution and punishment as a way of discouragement. But we are actually trying to get in at the beginning to prevent actions being taken by those for whom prosecution and punishment hold no fear," he said.

But civil rights campaigners say Mr. Blunkett's proposed measures will be counter-productive. Shami Chakrabarti from the London-based human rights group, Liberty, is one of them.

"The experience of Northern Ireland shows that when you detain people without a fair trial, you send a signal to extremists that they are right, that they should take the law into their own hands because there is really no law," said Ms. Chakrabarti. "And that injustice actually breeds terrorism. It does not solve it."

She said Britain is holding 14 foreign terror suspects without trial at Belmarsh prison under existing laws.

Mr. Blunkett said the new anti-terrorism measures will be debated for the next six months before they will be placed before parliament for enactment.