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France to enshrine some state of emergency measures into law

France's new anti-terror bill will allow police to continue to carry out house raids without a warrant and restrict suspects' movement. Rights advocates decried the bill, but it met with little public resistance.

France's lower house of parliament on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in favor a new anti-terrorism bill, taking several measures in place under a 2-year-old state of emergency and enshrining them permanently into law.

The new law will bolster French police's search and surveillance powers, allow suspected terror sympathizers to be confined to their residences or neighborhoods and make it easier for authorities to close mosques suspected of preaching hatred — all without seeking prior permission from a judge.

Read more: Emmanuel Macron: Fighting Islamist terror is France's top priority

Lower house legislators adopted the bill by a margin of 415 to 127, with 19 abstentions. It was approved by the upper house Senate in July and is expected to easily pass through the National Assembly, where President Emmanuel Macron's En March! party (LREM) boasts a comfortable majority.

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Macron pledges to transform France

Ahead of the vote, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb described France as being "still in a state of war."

Since 2015, over 240 people have been killed in France in attacks by assailants who pledged allegiance to, or were said to be inspired by, the "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group.

French authorities have continued to struggle to deal with the domestic threat that foreign jihadis and homegrown militants continue to pose. On Sunday, a Tunisian man yelled "Allahu Akbar" —  Arabic for God is Greatest — before fatally stabbing two women outside the central station in Marseille.

"Lawmakers realize that today's threat is serious and that we must protect ourselves against terrorists," Collomb told reporters following the vote. "This must be done in a way that balances security and freedom. This text will help protect French people."

Macron's predecessor, Francois Hollande, declared a state of emergency immediately following the November 2015 attack in Paris, which saw Islamist suicide bombers and gunmen kill around 130 people.

The state of emergency was intended to be a temporary measure but has since been extended six times. The government has claimed that the emergency powers in place since then have prevented similar attacks from being carried out.

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France: the holy war behind bars

French rights traditions being eroded, say rights group

While France has traditionally been characterized by its proud human rights traditions, the new anti-terror bill was met with little public resistance. In fact, a poll published by France's Figaro daily showed that 57 percent approved the bill, even if 62 percent thought it would encroach on personal freedoms.

Rights campaigners, however, were quick to warn that the new laws eroded a number of civil liberties. 

Read more: Minority Report à la française?

"There is a numbness of public opinion with regard to the defense of our liberties, a numbness that gets renewed with every terrorist attack," said Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer and member of the International Human Rights Federation.

In a statement, international rights group Human Rights Watch said, "France has become so addicted to the state of emergency that it is now injecting several of these abusive measures into ordinary law."

UN experts also last week raised their objections to the French government's measure.

"The normalization of emergency powers has grave consequences for the integrity of rights protection in France, both within and beyond the context of counter-terrorism," said UN human rights expert Fionnuala Ni Aolain.

dm/sms(AFP, Reuters)

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