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French parliament passes controversial constitutional reforms

The most controversial point surrounding France's constitutional reforms includes the possible stripping of citizenship for convicted terrorists. The measure has broad public support, but some politicians are outraged.

France’s National Assembly passed a series of constitutional amendments that would, among other things, allow the state to strip convicted terrorists of their French citizenship.

The measures, which were introduced by Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls, come in response to the November terror attacks in Paris, which left 130 people dead.

The broad vote for constitutional reform passed 317-199, but there were more contentious votes along the way. The most controversial measure, to strip convicted terrorists of nationality, narrowly passed 162-148, with 22 abstentions, after weeks of intense debate.

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Justice minister resigns over reforms

The nationality measure has strong public support but has deeply divided President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party.

Some 60 left-wing MPs boycotted the broader vote, and Justice Minister Christian Taubira resigned last month in protest.

Whether the reforms eventually become law remains to be seen.

The bill now goes to the Senate,

and if passed there must then pass the full Congress – a joint session of both houses - with a three-fifths majority.

Valls said he is confident the reforms would pass, and warned lawmakers from his Socialist Party that voting against them would "put the government in difficulty and leave the president in a minority."

Revoking citizenship

Prime Minister Valls (L) and Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas watch during parliament's constitutional reform vote.

Prime Minister Valls (L) and Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas during the vote

The government says the controversial measure is a powerful symbolic element, but would impact very few people. The decision to revoke citizenship would be made by a judge and could only be applied to terror-related cases.

Human rights groups warned that the original bill discriminated against ethnic minorities because it would only be applied to people with dual citizenship.

In response, the government extended the measure to all French citizens. But that risks leaving a person stateless, which would contradict France's international obligations - prohibiting making people stateless.

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Valls said the measures are necessary, given the ongoing terrorist threat, which is "without doubt more serious than before November 13" when gunmen and suicide bombers unleashed their attacks across Paris.

The bill would also introduce the principle of state of emergency into the constitution. In cases of a terrorist threat or a natural disaster a 12-day emergency period could be declared, and extended by a parliamentary vote.

The prime minister justified the bill, saying, "Because we are at war, we must unite", he told journalists after the vote. "This is a great day for the Republic, for unity, for France and the fight against terrorism."

Right-wing politician Alain Juppe,

a former prime minister seen as a possible frontrunner in next year's presidential election, dismissed the reforms as "pointless" and said on Twitter that they "divide all the parliamentary groups -- to be avoided!"

bik/jil (AFP, AP)

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