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BRITAIN: 'Guantanamo' new laws jibe.

Byline: By SAM MARSDEN

BRITISH police could get powers to stop and question anyone in the UK under proposed tough new anti-terror laws.

Anyone who refused to give their name or explain what they were doing could be charged with obstructing the police and fined up to pounds 5,000.

Opponents compared the planned legislation, part of a package being put together by home secretary John Reid, to the controversial "sus" laws of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Peter Hain, secretary os State for Northern Ireland, where the powers are already in force, warned the restrictions could become "the domestic equivalent of Guantanamo Bay".

But it emerged later that it was the Northern Ireland Office - Mr Hain's own department - which proposed extending the provision across the UK.

It is understood that stop and question powers in Ulster are due to be relaxed as part of the peace process, but officials in the province want to retain them.

Labour chairwoman Hazel Blears told Sky News: "What I understand is that the request has come from the Northern Ireland Office because they have the powers, they want to be able to carry on using them, they find them useful."

Newly re-elected Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said it would be a shame if tackling al Qaida meant the laws were not relaxed in Ulster as expected.

Mr Hain, a candidate for Labour's deputy leadership, said he wanted to see the details of the policy before making any judgment.

But he said: "We cannot have a reincarnation of the old 'sus' laws under which mostly black people, ethnic minorities, were literally stopped on sight and that created a really bad atmosphere and an erosion of civil liberties."

Counter-terrorism minister Tony McNulty said the measures would not go before parliament until the autumn, allowing plenty of time for consultation.

He said they would only be used to tackle terrorism and not mark a return to the "heavy-handed days of 'sus' law".

The "sus" laws, permitting police officers to act on suspicion, were reformed after being blamed for the Bristol, London and Liverpool riots in 1980 and 1981.

Mr McNulty suggested the proposed new measures could help reduce the tensions caused by existing police stop and search powers.

It is likely that police would need to have a "reasonable suspicion" in order to stop and question somebody, as they currently do in Northern Ireland.

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said the Tories would judge any detailed proposals on their merits but warned they would need public support.

He told BBCi's Sunday AM: "We will listen to the proposals... but they have to be proposals consistent with popular consent in this country and with not alienating the people whose co-operation we need in the fight against terrorism."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg accused the government of seeking a "police state" and warned it would only increase radicalism.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 28, 2007
Words:483
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