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Russia in first step to terror law

Controversial bill to allow 60-day security clampdowns


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The bill is a response to the Beslan school attack in which more than 330 died. most of them children.
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MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- Russia's parliament has given initial support to a proposed new anti-terrorism law that has raised fears among its critics that it could lead to an abuse of people's rights.

The bill, which would give Russian authorities the right to impose a 60-day security clampdown in any part of the country solely on suspicion that a terror attack was being planned, easily passed a first reading in the State Duma (lower house).

The bill, initiated by parliamentary allies of President Vladimir Putin, was drawn up in light of the deadly Beslan school siege in September in which more than 330 hostages were killed, half of them children, after a Chechen rebel attack.

It foresees the imposition of "a state of terrorist danger" if authorities receive information -- even unconfirmed -- that suggests an attack is being planned.

During that period, even if no attack takes place, authorities could introduce emergency measures including banning public demonstrations, tapping phones, conducting spot street checks and restricting movements of people and traffic.

Critics of the bill, mainly from the communist opposition in parliament, say the emergency powers could be unscrupulously exploited to snuff out public protests and popular discontent at some stage in the future.

"We are convinced that there already exists a full legal base for fighting terrorism, but it does not save the country or society from acts of terror because the roots of terrorism lie in the social and economic policy of the regime," said communist deputy Alexei Kondaurov.

He said the draft law did not provide for any brakes on the conduct of the authorities during the proposed state of emergency.

The bill also proposes curbs on press activity that could block photographs and television footage of graphic scenes of violence, and restrict journalists' reporting at the scene of attacks such as that in Beslan in southern Russia.

The Kremlin and security chiefs harshly criticized the media for publishing explicit pictures of piles of bodies after security forces stormed the Beslan school and the editor of one leading Russian daily newspaper was sacked.

The bill passed its first reading in the pro-Kremlin Duma by 385 votes to 47 against, with a single abstention. It has to pass a further two readings before it goes to the parliament's upper house and finally to Putin for signing into law.


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