Sat, Sep 17, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Blair defends deportations


British Prime Minister Tony Blair, second left, is seen during a press conference on global debt with, from left, musician and activist Bob Geldof, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on the second day of the 2005 World Summit of the United Nations at UN headquarters in New York City on Thursday.


British Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended his government's attempts to deport terror suspects to countries with poor human-rights records and denied that Britain's proposed anti-terrorism legislation would undermine civil liberties.

In an interview with the BBC broadcast yesterday, Blair also played down the failure of the UN to agree on a common definition of terrorism at its summit of world leaders in New York.

"Personally I would not make too much of that," said Blair, who was interviewed before leaving New York for London late on Thursday night. "There is a coming together in the international community around the need to fight terrorism and fight it not just at the level of security but at the level of taking on and defeating the ideas of these people."

Offering his own definition of terrorism, Blair said: "It is the killing of innocent people deliberately, innocent civilians ... I think in practical terms most reasonable people have no difficulty with this definition."

Since the London bombings on July 7 that killed 52 bus and subway commuters, and the failed attacks two weeks later, Blair has moved swiftly to tighten terrorism laws and crack down on Islamic extremists.

Britain has also stepped up efforts to deport extremists and foreign terror suspects. Last month, authorities detained 10 foreigners for deportation, including firebrand cleric Abu Qatada, previously described by Spanish officials as Osama bin Laden's "spiritual ambassador in Europe."

On Thursday, authorities detained seven foreigners for deportation, some of whom are Algerian men once suspected of involvement in a plot to spread the deadly poison ricin in London.

The detentions come as Britain tries to reach agreements with several north African and Middle Eastern countries, including Libya and Algeria, that deportees will not be tortured or abused on their return. As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, Britain is not allowed to deport people to countries where they may be mistreated.

But civil-rights campaigners and legal experts warn the agreements will have no standing in international law, and accuse Blair's government of harming human rights.

"Virtually every country in Europe, following terrorist acts, has been toughening up their legislation," Blair said.

Blair hopes to pass a new counterterrorism bill by the year's end. If approved by parliament, it will outlaw "indirect incitement" of terrorism and "glorifying" violence -- targeting extremist Islamic clerics blamed for seducing Muslim youth.

The legislation will ban publishing or selling material that incites terrorism, and outlaw attending terrorist training camps in Britain or abroad.

The most controversial proposal is to extend the period of detention without charge for terror suspects from 14 days to three months.

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