Australia's PM gives up over new terror laws

Plans by Australia's prime minister to bring in tough new anti-terror laws have been delayed in parliament due to opposition from regional leaders. The government needs the support of the states - all run by the opposition Labor Party - to enforce the measures. State leaders, who backed the bill last month but have yet to agree a detailed draft, fear it could threaten civil liberties and breach the constitution. The law would allow terror suspects to be held without charge for 14 days.

Prime Minister John Howard wants the federal parliament to pass the legislation by Christmas, ahead of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games next March.

Under the new measures, police would be given greater stop-and-search powers and a unified command would be set up at the country's airports.

There are also plans to impose life sentences on anyone caught funding militant organisations. The most controversial element is a shoot-to-kill provision, giving police officers the right to use lethal force in the pursuit of suspected terrorists.

The leaders of Australia's eight states and territories said in September they would back the law, in return for a promise from Mr Howard that the measures be reviewed after five years.

However, Mr Howard has been accused of trying to push through the legislation too quickly.

Queensland state premier Peter Beattie told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio that the regional leaders needed more time to consider the bill.

"What we're trying to do is get sensible agreement that protects Australians from terror but also enables accountability and will not get knocked off in the high court," he said.

The Labor Party's left-wing faction passed a resolution on Sunday warning that the laws could breach Australia's international human rights obligations.

Muslim leaders have also expressed fears that the laws could spread intolerance.

Australia has never suffered a major terrorist attack on home soil, but has tightened security since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, reports BBC news. I.L.

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