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Blair Backs Tougher Interrogation Laws
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Blair Backs Tougher Interrogation Laws



From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says in the final weeks before he leaves office, he will push for new antiterrorism laws including giving police the right to stop and question people without the suspicion that a crime has taken place.

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

NPR's Rob Gifford has more from London.

ROB GIFFORD: If anyone thought Tony Blair was bowing out quietly, he's disabused them of that with that idea today's op-ed article. We've chosen as a society to put the civil liberties of the suspect even if a foreign national, first, he 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 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 so-called stop-and-question power in the new legislation. This would enable police to interrogate people about who they are, where they've been, and where they're going without needing to suspect a crime had taken place. Hazel Blears is the chair of Tony Blair's Labour Party.

Ms. HAZEL BLEARS (Chairman, Labour Party): Well, I think this is a matter that whether the public understands that threats in terrorism is a serious ----08.06 in this country, they will want the police and the security services to have the necessary powers, of course, balancing it with civil liberties. That we want to make sure that we can protect people in this country from the terrorist threats.

GIFFORD: But as has frequently 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 would be most likely to be targeted. Ahmed Versi is editor of the Asian News. He says Blair is also making life difficult for his successor, Gordon Brown.

Mr. AHMED VERSI (Editor, The Muslim News): What Tony Blair's measures would do is to alienate the Muslim community more and make it more difficult for Gordon Brown to try and have a dialogue with the community, because they'll feel that on the one hand, the government wants to have a dialogue. On the other hand, they are bringing in such draconian measures, which they perceive would target them more and more.

GIFFORD: 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, Tony Blair is now making one final push before he leaves office on June 27.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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