After Nice Attack, France Urges Lawmakers to Extend Emergency Rule

Under fire from opposition politicians, French PM wants a three-month rollover of the emergency regime, giving police greater search-and-arrest powers.

Soldiers pass by the new makeshift memorial in tribute to the victims of the deadly Bastille Day attack at the Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France, July 19, 2016.
Valery Hache, AFP

REUTERS — France's government, smarting from accusations that it did not do enough to avert last week's deadly truck attack in Nice, urged lawmakers on Tuesday to extend a period of emergency rule that gives police greater search-and-arrest powers.

Under fire from opposition politicians and jeered by crowds at a remembrance ceremony on Monday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls wants lawmakers to back a three-month rollover of the emergency regime imposed after a previous lethal attack last November.

The move comes as the Promenade des Anglais along the seafront of the Riviera city reopened after an attack last Thursday in which Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel ploughed a large truck into crowds of Bastille Day revelers, killing 84, before being shot dead by police.

Two members of the government, which has urged opponents to show greater political unity in the face of a serious terrorist threat, sounded a conciliatory note ahead of Tuesday evening's parliamentary debate on the matter.

French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas left the door open to a six-month rollover of emergency rule in line with demands from right-wing politicians, saying the demand was "not incongruous" given that it would encompass the anniversary of the attacks of last November.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's defense minister, said Valls was ready to take other proposals on board concerning the specific powers emergency rule would comprise to bolster the counter-terrorism efforts of the police and intelligence services.

"This is not just symbolic," said Le Drian.

"We can see from what happened in Germany that the threat is everywhere," the minister said, alluding to news of yet another attack overnight in Germany in which a man hit train commuters with an axe, seriously injuring four.

The number of French people who believe Francois Hollande's government is up to the task of tackling terrorism plummeted to 33 percent after the attack in Nice, from confidence ratings of 50 percent or more in the wake of the two other major attacks in early and late 2015.

Prime Minister Valls was "open to any proposals that may be forthcoming" from lawmakers for tweaks to the emergency powers bill endorsed at a morning cabinet meeting, Le Drian added.

France imposed emergency rules after the November 13 attacks in which Islamist militants killed 130 people in Paris, giving the police powers to search homes and place people under immediate house arrest without advance clearance from judges.

The Interior Ministry said hundreds of unlicensed weapons — some war-grade — were unearthed in searches that led to a large number of arrests, helping foil several terror plots.

The bill to be debated in parliament on Tuesday night would also grant police and spy services greater powers to dig into suspects' computers and mobile phone communications.