France to extend state of emergency until July

Paris: France seeks to extend the state of emergency that has been in place since the Paris attacks to cover the period of the Euro 2016 football championship and the Tour de France.  French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Euro 2016, hosted by France from June 10, was a security priority, The Guardian reported. “Faced with an event this big… which must take place in conditions of security and which at the same time should be a celebration… we have to ensure security,” Valls said.

“The state of emergency cannot be permanent but for these big events… we have decided to prolong it.” The French government declared a state of emergency within hours of November 13 attack last year which left 130 people killed. But the powers — which hark back to the Algerian War in the 1950s — were later redefined and have already been extended twice until May 26.

The government now wants to extend the emergency for a further two months until the end of July. The special emergency measures allow police to conduct house raids and searches without a warrant or judicial oversight, including at night. It gives extra powers to officials to place people under house arrest outside the normal judicial process. It also allows for restrictions on large gatherings.

Recent opinion polls have shown the public is largely in favour of the state of emergency, but human rights groups and lawyers have warned of the risk of abuses.

The last time the measure was extended, at the beginning of this year, a group of four UN human rights specialists called on France not to prolong the state of emergency, warning of “the lack of clarity and precision of several provisions of the state of emergency and surveillance laws”.  Its concerns centred on the restrictions to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to privacy.

The Human Rights League of France also complained the state of emergency “seriously impacts public freedoms”.  Earlier this month, the French daily Liberation reported the French-Belgian terror cell that struck Brussels on March 22 and also prepared November 13 Paris attacks could have also planned an attack on the football tournament.

French police said this was no surprise. “It’s hardly a scoop to learn that the terrorists were hoping to attack during the Euros. The security forces are always examining possible attack scenarios to know how to respond,” a police officer said.

The Euro 2016 tournament will take place in 10 host cities across France between June 10 and July 10, with both the opening match and final to be held at the Stade de France in Paris, which was a target of the November 13 attacks.  The Tour de France cycling race takes place from 2-24 July.

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