The devolution of Ulster: Law will treat all campaigners who use violence as terrorists

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MILITANT ENVIRONMENTALISTS and religious groups that use or threaten to use "serious" violence face being treated as terrorists under government proposals published yesterday.

Extremists operating in Britain who incite others to carry out terrorism abroad will also be outlawed as part of the sweeping new Terrorism Bill. The Government wants to extend anti-terrorism powers to cover international and "domestic" terrorism as well as Irish violence for the first time. The police will be given greater powers of arrest, detention and the taking and storing of samples, against anyone classified as a terrorist. Environmental activists and civil rights campaigners who take part in demonstrations, such as protests against the live export of animals and genetically modified crops, fear they will be caught up in the powers.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, yesterday attempted to head off criticism by arguing: "Nothing in this Bill is designed to, or will, interfere with the right of people to peacefully protest." He refused to comment on which groups,could be outlawed, but stressed that only the threat of "serious" violence would trigger the anti-terror powers. It would be for the courts to decide case by case whether alleged offences fell within the scope of the Bill.

Under the new laws, terrorism is defined as "the use or threat, for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause". It adds it must include "action which involves serious violence against person or property, endangers the life of any person, or creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public...."

If the Bill becomes law, police will be able to arrest a person if they suspect he or she is a terrorist. The person may be held initially for 48 hours and up to a maximum of seven days compared with 36 hours and up to four days for a suspect detained under normal criminal law. A new criminal offence of inciting terrorist acts abroad from within the UK is to be created. The criminal activities include murder, wounding, poisoning and explosion. While there have been complaints from foreign governments that Britain is being used as a terror base, there is also concern that the activities of groups trying to overthrow dictators and despots will also be outlawed.

In addition, the Bill shifts the power to allow extended detention of suspects from the Home Secretary to judges. There will also be powers for police, Customs and immigration officers to seize cash from terrorists at borders and allow them to attempt to obtain money by civil court action.

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