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Belgium pledges security crackdown on Islamist violence

Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel called for changes to be made to the country's constitution in order to combat extremists. Michel also pledged an extra 400 million euros ($427 million) to fight Islamist violence.

Addressing Belgium's federal parliament as security forces were conducting raids around the capital Brussels, Prime Minister Charles Michel pledged to use changes to the constitution to extend preventive detention times for suspects from 24 hours to 72 hours.

He told parliament that the government would also introduce laws to jail jihadists arriving back from Syria, ban hate preachers and close down unregistered places of worship in response to last week's attacks. Michel also advocated the introduction of a system for people considered a terrorist threat that would "impose the wearing of an electronic bracelet."

"The risk before us is the collapse of the entire European project if we don't take our responsibilities," Michel told lawmakers parliament.

"All democratic forces have to work together to strengthen our security."

Far-reaching measures

Michel also confirmed that as part of the security measures Belgium would move forward on introducing a system of airline passenger information sharing that European Union nations have so far been incapable of agreeing on. France announced that it was likely to follow suit with the adoption of the same system.

Further measures would include an extension of house searches to take place at any time rather than the current time frame limiting law enforcement to the hours between 5 am and 9 pm.

Michel added that the Belgian government would also make it impossible to buy mobile phone cards anonymously. A mobile phone allegedly used to coordinate the Paris attack had been found in a bin near the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, where 89 people were killed.

Defense of Belgium's defenses

Michel meanwhile dismissed criticism of Belgian police, saying they had provided vital information that led to the police raid in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on November 18.

French President Francois Hollande had said the coordinated suicide bombings and shootings that killed at least 129 people in Paris on November 13 had been planned in Belgium. Reuters news agency said that French media had quoted an intelligence source as saying: "The Belgians just aren't up to it."

"Also I don't accept the criticism seeking to disparage our security services, who do a difficult and tough job," Michel said.

The impoverished Brussels district of

Molenbeek

had been propelled to the center of investigations into the Paris attacks after it had emerged that two of the attackers had been living there. Belgian police were carrying out at least six fresh raids in Molenbeek and elsewhere in Brussels linked to Paris suicide bomber Bilal Hadfi - one of three suicide bombers at the Stade de France stadium, as Michel addressed lawmakers in parliament.

Michel also vowed to support French military efforts fighting the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) by sending a vessel to escort the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the eastern Mediterranean.

ss/jil (AP, Reuters)

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