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France's Macron seeks extended emergency powers after Manchester attack

PARIS (Reuters) - The French parliament will be asked to extend by several months emergency powers introduced in 2015 to counter the threat of terrorist attacks, President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday after talks with security chiefs.

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Emergency rules giving French police wider search and arrest powers were introduced after Islamist gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in and around Paris in November 2015.

Macron, who reviewed national security with defence chiefs following Monday night’s suicide bomb attack on a concert venue in northern England, said he would ask lawmakers to extend the special powers - due to expire in mid-July - until Nov. 1.

The attack in Manchester, claimed by Islamic State, killed 22 people and wounded dozens more. It struck a chord in France where more than 230 people have died in the past two years in attacks by Islamist militants.

Three weeks into his presidency, and facing parliamentary elections in June, Macron will want to be seen as being decisive in dealing with the threat of attacks after his presidential rivals portrayed him as weak on security matters.

A statement by the Elysee palace said Macron told his government to devise additional measures for countering the security threats beyond the emergency powers and produce a draft bill to put to parliament in the coming weeks.

He also gave instructions for a task force comprised of all the French security services to be swiftly established to coordinate actions against attacks.

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Earlier, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said French authorities had learned from British investigators that the suspect in the Manchester bombing, British-born Salman Abedi, had traveled to Libya and probably Syria.

“Today we only know what British investigators have told us - that someone of British nationality, of Libyan origin, suddenly, after a trip to Libya and then probably to Syria, becomes radicalised and decides to carry out this attack,” Collomb told BFMTV.

Asked if he believed Abedi was supported by a network, Collomb said: “That is not known yet - but maybe. In any case, (he had) links with Daesh (Islamic State) that are proven.”

The Manchester attack had parallels with the November 2015 Islamist attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris - one of several bombings and shootings on the same night in the French capital. Islamic State also claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks.

The performance of France’s intelligence services have come under close scrutiny since the November 2015 attacks, and Collomb said that Britain could just as easily have been the target then as well.

“What people say is that they hesitated to strike in France or Britain and that, at the time, Daesh’s (Islamic state’s) target was not yet completely decided and so it could have happened in Britain then,” he said.

Collomb said security had been stepped up at the star-studded Cannes Film Festival being held in the south of France.

“We are taking special measures everywhere,” the minister said.

Reporting by Brian Love and Adrian Croft; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Richard Lough