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U.K. debates new terror measures

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LONDON — The British government presented plans Wednesday to grant authorities sweeping new powers to deal with civil emergencies and terrorist attacks.

The Civil Contingencies Bill will give police the power to evacuate dangerous areas, impose no-go zones, destroy private property without compensation and ban peaceful protests.

If approved by Parliament, the legislation will cover national emergencies such as floods, disease and major terrorist incidents.

Experts have warned that authorities are currently not prepared to deal with an incident on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

A parliamentary committee had criticized a draft of the bill, saying that the proposed powers could be abused.

In particular, it said the definition of emergency in the legislation was too broad and could allow a government to declare a state of emergency simply to protect its own political dominance.

In response to the concerns, the government has agreed to tighten the definition to "an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare, the environment or the security of the United Kingdom or a place in the United Kingdom" — and struck out reference to the threats to "political, administrative or economic stability."

"It is always difficult to get the balance absolutely right but that is what we are striving to do," Home Office minister Hazel Blears told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.