British Parliament vote over plan to detain terror suspects for 90 days

The British government faces a crunch vote in Parliament Wednesday over its plan to detain terror suspects for 90 days without charge, putting the authority of Prime Minister Tony Blair on the line. Opposition to the plan is intense and many of Blair's own Labour Party lawmakers plan to rebel.

Knowing the vote will be tight the government has recalled ministers from overseas trips to shore up its numbers. Treasury chief Gordon Brown is returning from a visit to the Middle East, while Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will cut short an official European Union visit to Russia.

Defeat would be a humiliating blow to Blair, and raise serious questions about his grip on power. The Terrorism Bill was drafted in the wake of the July 7 suicide bombings on London's transit system that killed 52 commuters and the four suspected bombers, and the failed attacks two weeks later.

Designed to tackle Muslim extremism, the bill aims to outlaw training in terrorist camps, encouraging acts of violence and glorifying terrorism.

The most controversial proposal is to extend the time terror suspects can be held without charge. Police and prosecutors argue more time is needed in complex cases in which suspects often have multiple aliases and store information in tightly encrypted computers, and in which cooperation of foreign agencies is needed.

But critics claim holding people for three months without charge would erode civil rights, and are demanding that the current maximum 14-day period be extended to 28 days rather than 90.

The government has offered some concessions, ensuring that a senior High Court judge must review the detention every seven days. Home Secretary Charles Clarke has also added a so-called "sunset clause", so that the measure will expire in a year unless approved again by Parliament.

But Blair, who is fighting to shore up his authority, has refused to budge on the length of time. He has made the issue political, demanding loyalty from his Labour lawmakers and suggesting they can paint the opposition Conservatives, long regarded as the natural champions of law and order, as soft on terrorism. His resolve has been stiffened by the belief that a majority of Britons support the measure, reports the AP. I.L.

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