Sudan passes security bill despite protests

Source: Reuters

* Bill allows security services powers of arrest, seizure * Southerners, opposition say law will damage elections KHARTOUM, Dec 20 (Reuters) – Sudan’s parliament passed controversial national security reforms on Sunday in the face protests by the opposition and from southerners that they grant agents sweeping powers and could damage elections next year. Activists have accused Sudan’s powerful National Security Service (NSS) of carrying out torture and killings during the country’s north-south civil war. Sudan denies widespread abuses have taken place. The new bill curbed the amount of time NSS agents could hold suspects, but approved existing powers of arrest, search and seizure. The law has stoked tensions between Sudan’s ruling northern National Congress Party (NCP) and its junior coalition partner — south Sudan’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) — in the build-up to elections due in April. “This law is going to have a serious impact on freedom and democracy in this country. It’s going to affect the elections and intimidate voters. People are going to be afraid to go out and vote,” senior SPLM official Anne Itto told Reuters. The SPLM has argued that NSS agents should be authorised to carry out investigations, but only the police should have the power of arrest. SPLM parliamentarians voted against the bill while opposition groups boycotted Sunday’s vote in protest. NCP official Ibrahim Ghandour defended the bill, saying the reduction in detention times marked a significant reform. “We are living in a world where everybody is talking about terrorism. That is why we need a security authority with the powers of detention,” he told Reuters. “How do you gather information without detaining a person?” The SPLM and NCP fought a two-decade civil war that ended in a troubled 2005 peace deal. That accord created the north-south coalition government and promised the elections. Both sides have been wrangling over a series of laws seen as essential to preparations for the poll, and a more controversial referendum on southern independence due in 2011. (Reporting by Andrew Heavens; Editing by Michael Roddy)
spotted by RS

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