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Disquiet as Hungary's parliament votes for new anti-terror powers

Hungarian lawmakers have voted for a constitutional amendment making it easier to declare a "terrorism state of emergency." Opponents say the move would give the government unfettered powers without justification.

Hungary's parliament approved the amendment by an overwhelming majority, granting the government extended powers - including greater public surveillance and wider use of the army - in the face of purported terror threats.

Lawmakers voted for the amendment by 153-13, with one abstention by a member of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party.

The change is the sixth amendment to the country's Basic Law since its adoption in 2012. It allows the government to declare a "terrorism state of emergency" - a new legal concept. The government would be able to declare extraordinary measures for up to 15 days before needing confirmation from

a two-thirds majority in parliament.

The state of emergency would allow for the use of military within Hungary's own domestic borders - something which is not currently allowed - if police or other security agencies were deemed unable to respond to the threat.

It would also give the government unrestricted control over everything from the internet to postal services, and allow curfews and restrictions on public events to be enforced.

'New type of security challenge'

The government claims the change, which is to take effect on July 1,

is necessary to respond to the "new type of security challenges" facing Europe.

However, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union says there is no justification for the changes.

Opposition parties claim the sweeping powers could be misused to weaken checks and balances, allowing Orban's government to consolidate its grip on power.

Socialist Party President Jozsef Tobias said the amendment was really about "the government's ambitions of power."

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has called the proposal "an open attack on human rights." It says the law gives the government sweeping powers without clearly defining what a terror threat was and could lead to stifling either protests or differing political opinions.

rc/bw (AFP, Reuters)