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India terror bill fails upper house test

India has boosted security and pushed for anti-terror laws since the December attack
India has boosted security and pushed for anti-terror laws since the December attack  

From CNN Producer Suhasini Haidar

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- In a victory for India's opposition, a controversial anti-terrorism bill failed to pass the South Asian nation's upper house of parliament by the narrow margin of 11 votes.

The debate over the bill, dubbed "The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance", went well over eight hours ending around 10:30 p.m. local (5 p.m. GMT).

The Indian government will now take the bill before a joint session of both houses of parliament.

That session is expected to convene Tuesday.

The bill was opposed by members of the opposition, human rights activists and journalists who claim that some of its provisions could be misused by the government and could give it too much power.

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Despite Thursday's result, it is expected the government will pass the bill in the joint session where it has the required numbers to pass the vote.

The bill had already passed in the lower house of parliament on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his ruling coalition of 23 parties have a majority in the lower house.

The controversial ordinance was drafted by the government following the September 11 attacks in the United States has been attacked as 'Draconian' by opposition critics who say the proposed laws are open to misuse and threaten civil liberties.

But the government argues the new laws are essential to deal with the threat of terrorism on Indian soil demonstrated by last December's attack on parliament in New Delhi in which 14 people, including five of the attackers, died.

The defeat of the bill in the upper house was expected and is unlikely to threaten the government but it is a severe embarrassment -- particularly following opposition criticism of its inability to control recent violence between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat state that has left more than 700 dead.

Police powers

Indian soldier
India argues that forces need more powers to deal with terrorism  

Among measures included in the bill are new rules for arrest and interrogation, as well as provisions allowing suspects to be held for 30 days without appearing in court.

It defines a terrorist as anyone threatening India's unity as well as causing terror among people. Anyone who finances, plans, prepares, carries out or supports terrorist acts can be held and tried under the legislation.

Critics say the bill gives police far too much power and say the new laws could be used to harass innocent people and target minority Muslims.

However, the government argues safeguards have been built into the bill to ensure abuses of power do not occur.

"When we ask our security forces to crush terrorism how can we not empower them with adequate powers," Home (Interior) Minister L.K. Advani told MPs before the lower house vote.

"We have incorporated several safeguards that have been suggested by the Supreme Court and by lawmakers so there should be no controversy."


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