Blair proposes strict anti-terrorism measures

LONDON - With his nation still bruised from last month's bombings, British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced yesterday tougher anti-terrorism measures that include shutting down radical mosques and deporting Islamic clerics who preach violence and hate.

The plan is a broad attempt to isolate religious extremists while giving wider powers to British counterterrorism forces in a country increasingly unnerved by militants. The proposals are an indication that the recent attacks on London's transit system, which killed 52 people July 7, have forced the government to reexamine the line between civil rights and national security.

"Let no one be in any doubt," Blair said during a news conference. "The rules of the game are changing."

The proposals, in many ways, would alter Britons' view of their nation as one of the most open multicultural societies in Europe. Fear of global terrorism and talk of jihad and radicalism by fringe Islamic organizations in Britain may give Blair the political mandate to do what would have been nearly impossible only a few years ago.

The prime minister's 12-point objective is to rid the country of Islamic militants and crush extremist voices. Blair said his government is working on agreements with other nations to guarantee that those Britain would deport to the Middle East and Africa would not be tortured or abused.

But in emphasizing his desire for tougher anti-terrorism laws, Blair said he would seek to amend human rights legislation if the courts don't support his proposals for deportation and banning certain political parties.

Human rights groups and liberal members of Blair's Labor Party immediately criticized the measures, which would also crack down on Web sites and bookshops peddling militant writings and make it a crime to "glorify" terrorism. Opponents said the plan would violate free speech and other civil rights.

"We don't win by mimicking the profound authoritarianism of those who are plotting against this country," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty. "I think it is very worrying that the prime minister has jeopardized our national unity today, both in terms of community relations and in terms of consensus politics."

Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Blair's sweeping plan risked "inflaming tensions and alienating people."

London Mayor Ken Livingstone, whose police force has swept across the city since the first attacks, said he supported harsher laws, but added that Blair's plan "is so vague that 20 years ago it would have meant banning Nelson Mandela or anyone supporting him."

Conservatives largely embraced the proposals as a crucial shift in what they have consistently viewed as a government that is too lenient on immigrants and foreign agitators.

The plan is forcing Britain to reflect on how far to push police powers - much like the United States did after the Sept. 11 attacks. But after the July 7 and July 21 incidents, Blair's plan seems to have found resonance, although it is expected to be rigorously debated in Parliament by liberal politicians who unsuccessfully battled anti-terrorist legislation in 2002.

"Coming to Britain is not a right," Blair said. "And even when people have come here, staying here carries with it a duty. That duty is to share and support the values that sustain the British way of life. Those that break that duty and try to incite hatred or engage in violence against our country and its people have no place here."

Britain and Europe have long been frustrated by religious clerics coming from the Middle East to preach hatred of the West from neighborhood mosques. Imams such as Egyptian-born Abu Hamza Masri, who lives in Britain but faces possible extradition to the United States, have been blamed for inciting young, frustrated Muslim men. The suspects in the July 23 attempted bombings are believed to be British citizens of Muslim African descent who may have been radicalized by foreign elements.

Blair called for the banning of the British offices of Hizb ut Tahrir and Al-Mujahiroun, which the government considers radical organizations that once called for Islamic law to rule Europe.

"There will be serious repercussions in terms of community relations if this ban goes ahead," said Imran Waheed, a spokesman for Hizb ut Tahrir. "Our members are all for political expression, not for violence."

The plan was announced as the prime minister was battling critics over foreign policy, especially the war in Iraq, which most Britons have opposed. Islamic radicals, including al-Qaida lieutenant Ayman Zawahri, said terrorist attacks on Britain would continue because of Blair's support for U.S. efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Blair said his new counter-terrorism plan would deny al-Qaida and other extremist cells a haven in Britain. He acknowledged the sensitivity of the issue and the political fight to come.

"Such action in the past has been controversial," said Blair. "Each tightening of the law has met fierce opposition. But, for obvious reasons, the mood is now different."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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