By Brian Love and Emile Picy
French lawmakers approved a six-month rollover of emergency rule on Wednesday after last week’s truck attack on holiday crowds in Nice, the third deadly assault in just 18 months for which Islamist militants have claimed responsibility.
President Francois Hollande’s Socialist government, accused by political opponents of doing too little to prevent the attack that killed 84 and injured hundreds, also vowed to step up strikes against Islamic State in its strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
A year from elections, Hollande is under intense pressure as opponents accuse his administration of police failings over the tragedy. A Tunisian man was able to drive a 19-tonne truck along a packed sea-front promenade, mowing down people in the Bastille Day crowd, before he was shot dead by police.
The extension of exceptional search-and-arrest powers for police was approved by 489 votes to 26 shortly before dawn in France’s National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, but not without renewed calls for an inquest.
Christian Estrosi, regional government head in the greater Nice area, said policing was lighter than Prime Minister Manuel Valls claimed, and that concrete blocks were not deployed to seal roads off during the national holiday festivities of July 14.
HOLLANDE UNDER PRESSURE
Emergency rule has been in place since attacks on Paris last November in which Islamist militants killed 130 people. Another 17 people were killed in January 2015 in attacks that began with the shooting of journalists working for Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly that had published cartoons mocking Islam.
In response to demands from the main right-wing opposition party, Les Republicains, the rollover of emergency rule was extended for six months, to late January 2017, rather than the three months proposed by Hollande’s government.
The emergency regime, due to be examined by the upper house Senate later on Wednesday before becoming law, allows police to search homes and arrest people without prior consent from judges. It also allows them to tap computer and phone communications more freely.
The attacks could hurt Hollande’s chances of re-election next year, already damaged by failure to cut unemployment.
Defending his government’s record, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told Le Monde newspaper in an interview that he had no intention of resigning and that even with all the measures being taken, “there can never be zero risk.”
While Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Nice attack, no firm evidence has yet emerged that the 31-year-old attacker, a delivery van driver with a record of home violence and petty crimes, had direct contact with the group.
France’s defence and foreign ministers were in the United States on Wednesday for talks with other members of a U.S.-led coalition on increased military efforts against the group, which has urged followers to attack France, among other enemy countries.
Back home, Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron said tourism in the Nice area had already seen bookings plunge by 20-30 percent after the attack, highlighting the risk the confrontation poses to a nascent recovery in one of the world’s top economies.