With threat 'very high', France set to extend state of emergency

Parisians have grown accustomed to seeing the army patrolling sensitive sites (AFP Photo/PHILIPPE LOPEZ)

Paris (AFP) - President Emmanuel Macron wants a sixth extension of France's state of emergency since the Paris attacks of November 2015, his prime minister said Wednesday, adding that the terror threat "remains very high".

The new president, elected on May 7, also wants legislation to bolster the powers of the security forces, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said, two days after the Manchester concert suicide bombing that claimed 22 lives.

"France and the United Kingdom are fighting the same enemy," Philippe said after a meeting of his defence council. "The terrorist threat remains, in Europe, in our two countries, at a very high level."

Macron is seeking a new extension of the state of emergency, which expires on July 15 after being extended "to preserve our democracy" -- referring to France's recent presidential vote and coming legislative elections.

The president's office said earlier that he was seeking to extend the state of emergency until November 1.

The measures allow security forces to monitor suspects and carry out searches without warrants, place suspects under house arrest, and ban public gatherings.

They were first imposed after the worst-ever terror attacks on French soil struck Paris on November 13, 2015, leaving 130 people dead.

Francois Hollande, president at the time, declared that France was "at war" and deployed troops to patrol the streets.

Currently about 7,000 troops are supporting police, Philippe said Wednesday, adding that their number could rise to 10,000, with an additional 60,000 reservists standing by.

The extensions of the state of emergency, with rationales including ensuring the protection of the Euro 2016 football tournament and this year's elections, have met with little public opposition.

But in December last year the left-leaning judges' union called the measures a "lasting drug" and the outgoing Socialist justice minister, Jean-Jacques Urvoas, said "getting accustomed to this unusual situation would pose a risk to our democracy of normalising the exceptional."

- 'Toxic' measure -

The announced plan to extend the state of emergency led to a joint letter of opposition from eleven rights and civil groups -- including Amnesty International France, Human Rights Watch and a French lawyers' group.

The groups said there were insufficient reasons for a measure they judged would be "counterproductive" and "toxic" for French society.

On Tuesday, they sent their letter to Macron arguing that an extension would "circumvent" anti-terrorist laws, stretch the security forces and authorise "measures involving serious attacks to individual freedoms" without judicial controls.

Over the objections of rights groups, lawmakers approved a new law in 2015 granting the state sweeping powers to spy on its citizens.

But Hollande was unable to get through parliament a measure that would have stripped bi-national terrorists of French nationality in certain cases.

Macron will propose a bill to help security forces "outside of the state of emergency," his office said Wednesday.

Philippe said the new legislation would ensure heightened protection for major cultural, sporting and other events.