Blair Backs Tougher Interrogation Laws

British Prime Minister Tony Blair passes a guard as he leaves 10 Downing Street Thursday. i i

British Prime Minister Tony Blair passes a guard as he leaves 10 Downing Street Thursday. Chris Young/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chris Young/AFP/Getty Images
British Prime Minister Tony Blair passes a guard as he leaves 10 Downing Street Thursday.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair passes a guard as he leaves 10 Downing Street Thursday.

Chris Young/AFP/Getty Images

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says before he leaves office he will push for new anti-terrorism laws, including giving police the right to stop and question people without suspecting a crime had taken place.

In a strongly worded op-ed piece in London's Sunday Times. Blair said it was a "dangerous judgment" to put the civil liberties of suspects ahead of Britain's security.

"We have chosen as a society to put the civil liberties of the suspect, even if a foreign national, first," Blair writes. "I believe this is misguided and wrong."

Blair goes on to write that within the next few weeks his government will publish new proposals on anti-terror laws, and he criticizes Britons for — in recent years — deciding that the threat to public safety from extremism did not justify radical changes to the law.

A spokeswoman at Britain's interior ministry, the Home Office, confirmed the government was looking to include a "stop-and-question" power in the new legislation. This would enable police to ask people who they are, where they have been and where they are going — without any clear reason to suspect a crime.

British police already have the power to stop and search people, but have no right to ask them their identity and movements.

"I think the public understand that the terror threat is great," says Hazel Blears, chair of Blair's Labor Party. "They want police to have necessary powers, of course balancing it with civil liberties. They want us to protect people from the terror threat."

But as has been the case in recent years, Blair's comments have stirred up a chorus of opposition.

Civil rights groups have protested, saying the plan to extend police powers is an attack on civil liberties. Some opposition politicians warned of the danger of creating a police state.

Others criticized Blair for trying to bolster his legacy in his final days in office. And Muslim groups have protested that young Muslim men likely would be the most targeted.

Ahmed Versi, editor of The Asian News, says Blair is also making life difficult for his presumed successor, Treasury minister Gordon Brown.

"Blair's measures will alienate Muslims even more and make Brown's job even more difficult," Versi says.

The difficulty of balancing national security issues while upholding civil liberties has been a tension at the heart of British politics throughout the latter stages of Tony Blair's premiership, just as it has been in the United States.

Having had his desire to strengthen anti-terror laws blunted at every turn by Parliament and the courts, Blair is now making one final push before he leaves office on June 27.

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