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India passes anti-terror law

Vajpayee.  His coalition government had a majority of about 80 in the joint session
Vajpayee. His coalition government had a majority of about 80 in the joint session  

NEW DELHI, India -- A controversial anti-terrorism bill has been passed by a rare parliamentary debate but only after the opposition strongly argued it would curb civil rights.

Both houses of India's parliament sat to hear the Prevention of Terrorism bill Tuesday before passing it by 425 votes to 296, with 60 of the 781 parliament members absent or abstaining vote, The Associated Press reported.

It is only the third time since India gained independence in 1947 that both houses have sat in a joint session.

The bill, which is expected to become law, allows police to detain suspects for questioning for three months without bringing charges against them with the possibility of an additional three months on approval from a special court.

The bill also allows anyone suspected of giving money, shelter, transportation or other support to terrorists to be tried on terrorism charges, and provides punishments ranging from a minimum five years in prison to death.

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The government has said the legislation is crucial for fighting Islamic militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, blamed by India for the December 13 attack on its Parliament. It also comes in the wake of the September 11 strikes on Washington and New York.

Opponents say it gives police too much power and will be used against innocent Muslims.

The government said it is essential to protect India against possible terror attacks.

About 40 speakers debated the bill.

Earlier parliament's lower house, the Lok Sabha, where prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's coalition holds a majority, passed the legislation, while the upper -- dominated by the opposition Congress party -- rejected it.

Vajpayee's alliance had a comfortable majority during the joint session.

Critics of the bill, including members of the opposition, human rights activists and journalists, have labeled its measures as draconian.

They say the proposed laws are open to misuse and threaten civil liberties.

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.

It defines a terrorist as anyone threatening India's unity as well as causing terror among people.


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