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Broad anti terrorism bill advances easily in russia { December 18 2004 }

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Broad anti-terrorism bill advances easily in Russia
Reuters, Agence France-Presse
Saturday, December 18, 2004

MOSCOW Russia's Parliament gave initial support Friday to a new anti-terrorism bill seen by some deputies as undermining people's rights, but the government immediately reacted by saying it should be toned down.

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

The bill 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. The draft would allow 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, the authorities could introduce emergency measures, including banning public demonstrations, tapping telephones, conducting spot street checks and restricting movements of people and traffic.

The bill easily passed a first reading in the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament.

But in documents distributed to Duma deputies, the government said some restrictions contradicted the Constitution, and it called on the Duma to amend the bill before a second reading.

The government, headed by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, is loyal to Putin and rarely criticizes his proposals.

"Article 29 of the project, which stipulates the order and conditions of informing the population about events linked to an act of terror, should be substantially amended because in its current form the article contradicts the key points of the media law of the Russian Federation," stated the document.

Although the government said it generally agreed with the bill's concept, it noted that restrictions on movements of people and public meetings must be conducted "only during the state of emergency and only in accordance with the federal constitutional law." It also said some proposals were "self-contradictory" but gave no other details.

The bill passed its first reading in the Duma by a vote of 385 to 47, with a single abstention. It must pass two additional readings before it goes to Parliament's upper house and then to Putin for signature into law.

As written, the bill allows the authorities to stop traffic and detain people in "anti-terror zones" for at least 60 days after receiving authority to do so from a secret service commission created under the prime minister. Similar laws that permit spying on Internet communications already are in place.

Earlier legislation dealt primarily with national security issues related to spying from abroad, while the new bill focuses specifically on counterterrorism operations. Rights groups fear the term is too vague and could be applied at will by Putin's administration.

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