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Egyptian parliament renews law permitting detention without trial

CAIRO—Egypt's parliament voted Sunday to extend for two years an emergency law that allows indefinite detentions without trials and otherwise restricts civil liberties.

The law's extension is a setback for the Bush administration, which has been pressing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to be less repressive. Mubarak had promised during his re-election campaign last year to replace the 25-year-old law with a new statute targeting terrorists, but his government chose to renew the old law instead. Parliament approved the extension 287-91.

Civil society groups and members of opposition parties have long demanded the law's abolition. Under it security forces forcefully disperse demonstrations and detain anyone deemed risky to national security, even people said to be slandering Egypt's image. Human-rights groups say that thousands of prisoners sit in Egyptian jails without formal charges.

Prime Minister Ahmed Nazief told parliament that the two-year extension "was not long when measured against the dangers which threaten us and our future. We will never use the emergency law other than to protect the citizen and the security of the nation and combat terrorism."

Egypt was rocked last week by bombings in the Sinai peninsula. The first took place Monday in a coastal tourist resort on the Red Sea and left 24 dead and 160 wounded. The second happened Wednesday when two men blew themselves up, one near a car carrying multinational peacekeepers, the other next to a police car. Only the two suicide bombers were harmed. Security forces arrested thirty people and killed one suspect in a gun battle.

"Current events and terrorist crimes call for a mechanism to face these crimes that afflict citizens," said Maher el-Drby, a member of parliament's majority party.

Opposition bloc members said that the law has been in force for 25 years and hasn't stopped any terrorist attacks.

"The executive uses this law to repress political opposition," said Mohamed Saad el-Katatny, a member of the influential Muslim Brotherhood, which holds 88 seats in parliament and forms the main opposition bloc.

Mubarak had hinted last week, even before the Sinai bombings, that the emergency law would be extended.

"How can we believe in the rest of the president's promises, which he made during the last electoral campaign?" said George Ishak, coordinator of the widespread Kifaya opposition movement, which in Arabic means "Enough."

The law has been in force since the 1981 assassination of former President Anwar Sadat.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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