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British PM wins vote for tougher terrorism laws
Britain Prime Minis 5293730
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown leaves Downing Street to attend Prime Ministers Questions in the House of Commons in London, Wednesday, June 11, 2008. Members of Parliament vote later Wednesday in a controversial parliamentary vote on extending terror suspect detention to 42 days. Opponents claim the planned laws are draconian, unnecessary and likely to antagonize Muslim communities. - photo by Associated Press
    LONDON — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Wednesday narrowly won a vote for tougher terrorism laws, emerging with his grip on power shaky but intact after a tough political battle over balancing national security and civil liberties.
    Brown had staked his political credibility on giving police more time to hold terrorism suspects in custody — and investigate alleged plots — before they are charged or released.
    Following months of testy debate, lawmakers voted 315 to 306 to approve plans to increase the time from 28 days to six weeks.
    The decision offers Brown respite after a troubling few months which have brought defeat in a special election, heavy losses in municipal elections and embarrassing policy gaffes.
    It appeared that the votes of nine minor party legislators from Northern Ireland, secured in talks with Brown earlier Wednesday, ushered the victory.
    But Brown’s struggle to win the vote underscored the fragility of his grip on power.
    He courted dozens of lawmakers Wednesday to secure backing in a round of meetings and telephone talks. Some surprised legislators said they hadn’t heard from Brown personally for years.
    Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband was ordered to abruptly curtail a Middle East tour to vote, risking offense to Israel by canceling talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on short notice.
    Brown has a double digit deficit to his rival Conservatives in most opinion polls and needs a swift revival ahead of a likely mid-2010 national election.
    Brown’s plans must now be passed by Britain’s House of Lords.
    Though some in Britain’s upper chamber have threatened to attempt to block the laws, the British leader could use rarely deployed legislation to force through his proposals with or without their backing.
    A broad alliance of libertarians, lawyers, right-of-center lawmakers, and activists had opposed Brown’s plans, claiming the draft laws are draconian, unnecessary and an affront to liberties won centuries ago.
    An estimated 37 of Brown’s own Labour lawmakers voted against his plans.
    Blair’s ex-chief legal adviser Lord Goldsmith and Britain’s current chief prosecutor Ken Macdonald are among key officials who insist new police powers are unnecessary.
    Goldsmith said the proposals could strain relations with Britain’s Muslim communities and choke off a vital flow of intelligence to police.
    Some critics see the issue as part of an ongoing fight to balance civil liberties and national security — following skirmishes on the use of police profiling, DNA and plans to introduce identity cards to the U.K. for the first time since World War II.
    Brown insists police need more time to crack encrypted computers, chase leads across the globe and map out sprawling terrorist networks.
    Officers investigating an alleged 2006 plot to blow up at least seven trans-Atlantic flights in suicide strikes needed to trawl through 400 computers and 6,000 gigabytes of data, Brown said.
    Most police chiefs and some victims of terrorism have backed Brown’s plans. Others have been won over by promises of extra scrutiny from lawmakers and judges, and the prospect of compensation of several thousand dollars per day to anyone wrongfully detained.
    Graham Foulkes, whose 22-year-old son, David, was killed in the July 7, 2005, bombing attack on London’s transport network, said a majority of the public support tougher laws.
    ‘‘Forty-two days is not a lot of a price to pay, particularly when we know the alternative,’’ Foulkes said.
    Even Britain’s intelligence agencies have made rare forays into the public realm over the issue.
    Jonathan Evans, director general of the domestic spy agency MI5, posted a message on the agency’s Web site to dismiss claims from both sides that the organization supported their arguments.
    But he acknowledged that terror plots being hatched against Britain are increasingly complex.
    Two former MI6 officers, Baroness Park and Baroness Ramsay, told The Times of London on Wednesday that they backed Brown.
    ‘‘Voting against 42 days increases the odds in favor of the terrorists,’’ said Ramsay, who staffed the overseas intelligence service’s Iraq desk during the first Gulf War in the 1990s.

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