Britain unveils new security proposals

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LONDON, Nov 6 (Reuters) The government unveiled new security proposals today but shied away from announcing any firm plans to extend the period a terrorism suspect can be held without charge.

Details of a new counter terrorism law were given during the Queen's Speech, which came just a day after the head of the domestic intelligence agency MI5 warned of a growing number of Islamists at large in the country.

The proposed new law would allow post-charge questioning of terrorism suspects, something currently only permissible in a criminal inquiry with the consent of the accused.

The new rules would mean that negative inferences could be drawn in a trial from a refusal to answer questions.

Other measures include setting up a counter terrorism DNA database, making it easier for the police and intelligence services to share data, and tougher monitoring of terrorism offenders on their release from prison, with a possible ban on overseas travel.

However there was no firm commitment to extend pre-charge detention times for terrorism suspects.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair suffered his first defeat in the House of Commons two years ago over plans to allow police to hold suspects for up to 90 days, following a rebellion by Labour MPs.

Instead, parliament agreed on a compromise deal which means they can be detained for up to 28 days.

''The government is currently considering options in relation to pre-charge detention in terrorist cases,'' the Queen said.

Police minister Tony McNulty had indicated on Sunday that the government intended to extend pre-charge detention to 56 days, with the process overseen by judges and parliament.

The Home Office, which says it has the backing of Lord Alex Carlile, Britain's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, argues that complex investigations and the growing threat mean the change is needed.

Yesterday, Jonathan Evans, head of MI5, said his agency had identified 2,000 British-based individuals who posed a direct threat to national security, some as young as 15, and there could be another 2,000 they did not know about.

''It is possible to envisage circumstances in which the 28 days limit might prove inadequate given the increasing complexity and scale of the current terrorist challenge,'' said Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

However civil rights campaigners and the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, as well as some Labour members, said there was still no evidence to support change.

Campaign group Human Rights Watch said ''any extension to the current 28-day limit, already the longest in the EU, would violate the right to liberty and be counterproductive in the effort to win the trust of Muslim communities''.

REUTERS NY RK2230

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