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Egypt's Mubarak hints he will extend emergency laws

Written by: Staff

CAIRO, Apr 18 (Reuters) Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today gave a strong hint he would extend emergency laws when they expire in June, saying a legislative vacuum before the passing of new anti-terrorism laws would be a ''serious danger''.

A human rights group and the opposition Muslim Brotherhood said extending the laws would be further proof the government had no intention of allowing greater political freedom in the Arab world's most populous country.

The emergency laws enable the authorities to detain people indefinitely without charge or trial, transfer civilians to military courts and limit public gatherings and protests.

The opposition says the measures, in force since 1981, have been used to curb political activity. The government says the laws, last renewed in 2003, are used only to fight terrorism and narcotics.

Mubarak promised last year to replace the laws with anti-terrorism legislation, but he did not say when. He said this month the new legislation would require 18 months to two years before it went before parliament.

''The presence of any legislative vacuum between the terrorism law and the emergency law is unacceptable. That will be a serious danger,'' Mubarak told MPs from the ruling National Democratic Party.

''We live in an inflamed region and we have to appreciate that Egypt, from time to time, is targeted,'' NDP Secretary-General Safwat el-Sherif quoted Mubarak as saying.

The remarks were reported by the official news agency MENA.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which has nearly a fifth of seats in parliament, is campaigning against any extension of the emergency laws.

Dozens of its members have been arrested since March in what the Islamist group says is an attempt to undermine the campaign.

''There is no serious intention towards political reform and what we are now seeing ... is evidence of the lack of any desire for political reform,'' Brotherhood deputy leader Mohamed Habib told Reuters.

The reform movement says recent government moves against judges who spoke out about abuses in elections last year are another sign the authorities were insincere in their talk last year of more political freedom.

Hafez Abu Seada, secretary general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, said the government would be escaping from its obligations if it extended the emergency laws.

''This is a very strong signal to the people that the government has suspended political and constitutional reform,'' Abu Seada he said. ''This means they have postponed reform.'' REUTERS SB PM2213

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