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May gets support from G7 on fight against terrorism

TAORMINA, Italy (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May won support from the world’s major industrialised nations on Friday for measures to tackle terrorism and kept the spotlight off Brexit and its possible effects on world trade.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron talk during a bilateral meeting at the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane De Sakutin/Pool

At her first G7 meeting as prime minister, May was keen to avoid discussing Britain’s soon-to-be-launched talks to leave the European Union and focused instead on the fight against terrorism, days after a suicide bomber killed 22 people at a concert in Manchester, Britain’s worst attack since 2005.

The leaders signed a joint statement to “combat the misuse of the Internet by terrorists”, backing efforts to make technology companies do more to crack down on what May called “the hateful ideology” of Islamic State.

“Against the backdrop of Monday’s cowardly attack in Manchester we have discussed what more we can do to defeat global terror,” May told a news conference.

“We agreed the threat from Daesh (Islamic State) is evolving rather than disappearing. As they lose ground in Iraq and Syria, foreign fighters are returning and the group’s hateful ideology is spreading online. Make no mistake, the fight is moving from the battlefield to the internet.”

It was a boost for May, who has seen the poll ratings of her governing Conservative Party fall after holding a commanding lead before a June 8 election, which she called two years’ early to strengthen her hand in the Brexit talks.

But Britain’s European divorce lingered in the background and came up in bilateral talks. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he had described Brexit in a meeting on Thursday with U.S. President Donald Trump as “a real tragedy”.

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May’s government has also been “irritated” about intelligence leaks by U.S. officials on the investigation into the Manchester attacker, 22-year-old Salman Abedi, suspected by the police and security services to have been working with a network of people inspired by extreme Islamist ideology.

After raising her concerns with Trump at a meeting on the sidelines of the G7 meeting, she said she had been reassured that he found the leaks unacceptable and that the Manchester police were again cooperating with the United States.

The bombing in Manchester struck a chord among leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron who drew on his own country’s experience of several jihadist attacks that have killed more than 230 people since 2015.

“We know this kind of attack,” the newly elected president of France told May at the San Domenico Palace Hotel, a former monastery in Taormina, Sicily.

“We will ... do everything we can in order to increase this cooperation at the European level, in order to do more from a bilateral point of view against terrorism. We will do that during the whole day, because that’s the common challenge.”

May also told one session at the G7 that countries should work with Britain on a series of steps to allow foreign fighters to be detained and brought to justice close to the countries where they had been operating.

“It is vital we do more to cooperate with our partners in the region to step up returns and prosecutions of foreign fighters,” May said.

“This means improving intelligence-sharing, evidence- gathering and bolstering countries’ police and legal processes,” she said, adding the G7 interior ministers would meet soon.

Brexit has raised fears about future security cooperation with the bloc, with both sides drawing up the battle lines for at least two years of talks that could quickly sour.

A French source said France and Britain had agreed to maintain close economic, security and diplomatic ties.

Editing by Tom Heneghan