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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
India's anti-terror law faces axe
Muslims in Delhi
The government says that POTA discriminated against Muslims
India's newly-elected coalition says it will scrap controversial anti-terrorism laws passed by the last government.

The Congress-led government says the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) had been grossly misused over the past two years, especially against Muslims.

The change is part of the government's Common Minimum Programme for change.

Other measures include rowing back on India's privatisation programme and maintaining a "credible" nuclear weapons programme.

'Draconian' act

The government of Atal Behari Vajpayee introduced POTA after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US and the attack on the Indian parliament the following December.

Member of security forces in Srinagar
POTA's critics say that it gave the security forces draconian powers

New Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government says that even though it will repeal POTA, it would not make compromises in the fight against terror.

"Given the abuse of POTA that has taken place, the United Progressive Alliance will repeal it while existing laws are enforced strictly," the coalition said in its policy statement released on Thursday.

Only on Wednesday human rights group Amnesty International had condemned POTA in its annual report.

Amnesty described it as "draconian" saying its use contravened basic civil liberties.

POTA broadened the scope of the death penalty and gave prosecuting lawyers more scope to detain and interrogate suspects.

Critics say that, following the religious riots in Gujarat state of 2002, Muslims were unfairly singled out under POTA.

Abolishing POTA is part of what the Mr Singh's government is calling a pledge to "preserve, protect and promote social harmony" in India.

Other strands of the new government's programme include:

  • Scrapping the current privatisation programme
  • Maintaining a credible nuclear weapons programme while seeking a nuclear-free world

  • Maintaining peace talks with nuclear-neighbour Pakistan - "Dialogue with Pakistan on all issues will be pursued systematically on a sustained basis"

  • A promise to "fully empower" women

  • Equal treatment in education and work for religious and caste minorities

  • Pursuing "friendly ties" with the United States while opposing "all attempts at unilateralism"

  • Giving relations with the Arabic world of West Asia a "fresh thrust". The government also said it stood by India's old commitment to an independent Palestinian homeland.

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