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French parliament debates plan to enshrine emergency powers in constitution

© AFP | More than 3,000 raids have been conducted since the state of emergency was declared on November 15, 2015

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-02-05

French lawmakers on Friday started debating constitutional changes that would see French nationals convicted of terror offences stripped of their citizenship and make it easier to put controversial emergency measures in place.

The series of shootings and suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group that left 130 dead in Paris on November 13, 2015 have caused a radical rethink of security measures in France.

President François Hollande declared a state of emergency in the wake of the carnage, giving police and security forces sweeping powers.

The Socialist government now wants to write the measure – created during the Algerian war in 1955 – into France's cherished constitution, citing what it sees as a persistent threat from jihadist militants.

Addressing the National Assembly on Friday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the emergency powers had enabled police to “destabilize” jihadist networks and thwart a terrorist plot – a reference to the December arrest of a 27-year-old Chechen featured in a video threatening to attack French police.

Valls claimed the state of emergency was an “efficient and indispensable” tool to tackle the worsening terrorist threat.

He said more than “2,000 French residents are implicated in [jihadist] networks linked to Syria and Iraq”, adding that “the fight against radicalization will be the task of a generation”.

Protests against harsher measures

The current three-month state of emergency expires on February 26 and is expected to be extended, giving the government time to adopt the constitutional reform.

But some rights groups believe the measure gives draconian powers to the security services and erodes citizens' rights.

The French Human Rights League (LDH), one of many bodies now questioning the efficacy of the harsher measures, said recently that only four legal procedures relating to terrorism had emerged from more than 3,000 police raids carried out under the post-attacks state of emergency.

Several thousand people marched through Paris and other cities Saturday protesting against the measures and a demonstration is expected to be held in front of the National Assembly building during Friday's debate.

'Principle of equality'

The second major amendment to be debated on Friday – the proposal to strip French-born citizens of their French nationality if they are convicted in terror cases – has sparked protests at home and abroad and led to the resignation of Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who openly opposed the measure.

Critics say the measure would have little practical effect in dissuading terrorists and would introduce a de jure inequality between citizens who have one nationality and those who have two or more. The amendment would only apply to the latter group since citizens with a single nationality cannot be made stateless.

Seeking to reassure sceptical lawmakers, Valls said the government would table an amendment to the constitutional reform enshrining the “principle of equality” between French citizens – though it was not clear how this principle would play out in practice.

Members of the National Assembly are scheduled to vote on the reform package on Wednesday, but if it is passed it will then have to be approved by the upper house, the Senate, before it can be written into the constitution.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2016-02-05

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