France extends state of emergency and loosens reins on security forces

By an overwhelming vote, assembly broadens powers of house arrest

French president François Hollande reviews troops  in the courtyard of the Hotel des Invalides, Paris, yesterday. Photograph: Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

French president François Hollande reviews troops in the courtyard of the Hotel des Invalides, Paris, yesterday. Photograph: Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

 

France’s National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to extend a state of emergency and to make it easier to place suspects under house arrest.

By 551 votes to 6, the lower house supported president François Hollande’s call to prolong by three months the state of emergency he declared last Friday after a series of coordinated attacks in Paris left 129 and hundreds injured.

The assembly also voted to expand police powers under the state of emergency, which already enables authorities to ban demonstrations, close buildings and impose a curfew.

The change, subject to approval by the senate today, will mean the authorities can place under house arrest anyone about whom there are “serious reasons to think his/her behaviour constitutes a serious threat with regard to public order”.

Parliamentarians removed a section of the original state-of- emergency law, dating from the Algerian war of independence, which gives the authorities the power to censor the press.

“This is the fast response of a democracy faced with barbarism. This is the effective legal response in the face of an ideology of chaos,” prime minister Manuel Valls told the assembly. He said the measures were “modern and effective tools to fight the terrorist threat”.

The assembly debate coincided with the news that police had identified one of the bodies taken from a squat in Saint-Denis after a seven-hour shoot-out on Wednesday as that of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected architect of Friday’s atrocities. Mr Valls broke the news of Abaaoud’s death in parliament to applause from members.

Search powers

Authorities have used their extraordinary powers to carry out 414 raids in the past three days. This has resulted in 64 arrests, 118 house arrests and the seizure of 75 weapons, including a rocket launcher found at an address in Lyon.

The new measures mean anyone suspected of posing a threat to security can be placed under house arrest for 12 hours a day to restrict their movement. And even if the house arrest is lifted, suspects can be prevented from meeting others deemed a threat.

In addition, authorities have the power to block websites deemed to incite or advocate “acts of terrorism”. Public demonstrations are banned and groups inciting acts that could seriously affect public order can be dissolved.

Separately, the head of the national police announced that officers would be allowed carry weapons even when off-duty.

Opposition criticism

Marine Le PenFrance

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy called for an overhaul of France’s security services and said too little had been done by the country’s leaders since the attack on Charlie Hebdo in January.

Mr Hollande also came under criticism from the left, with the Greens and other left-wing parties criticising the emergency measures as draconian.

Mr Hollande’s justice minister, Christiane Taubira, refused to answer a radio interviewer who repeatedly asked if she supported his plan to change the law so as to enable authorities revoke citizenship from dual nationals who are convicted of terrorism offences.