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London attacks to boost EU anti-terrorism plan

BRUSSELS, Tuesday (Reuters) The London bombings have given added urgency to the European Union's fight against terrorism, and justice and interior ministers will meet on Wednesday to try to boost an EU-wide action plan, officials and diplomats say.

No new initiatives are expected from the talks, but officials said the EU was likely to speed up discussion of three key proposals and work on measures already in the pipeline in the European Commission, the bloc's executive.

"Ministers will want to be absolutely certain that everything possible is being done," a senior British official said on Monday. The official said fighting terrorism was already a priority for Britain and it would be pursued with even more determination after the attacks on London's transport network last Thursday.

The EU's newly-appointed anti-terrorism coordinator, Gijs de Vries, said that immediately after the attacks, security officials from the 25-nation bloc met to assess the terrorism threat and exchange intelligence, a response he hailed as proof that cooperation had improved.

Britain, which took over the European Union presidency on July 1, is expected to press its partners to reach agreement this year on proposals to retain telephone and Internet records, and to approve plans to strengthen protection of key infrastructure targets such as transport and energy networks.

EU diplomats said London initially opposed an emergency meeting, arguing it would not help the hunt for the London bombers and could yield only a reaffirmation of past intentions.

However, Britain eventually accepted the value of a show of political solidarity and momentum, they said.

British Home Secretary Charles Clarke wants the bloc to agree on rules to oblige telecommunications companies to store for at least a year records showing whom customers are calling and e-mailing and what Internet sites they visit, officials said.

The plan, proposed by Britain and three EU partners, has been embroiled in controversy after complaints that it would impose huge costs on companies, and civil liberty groups fear privacy could be undermined.

Clarke wants EU ministers to adopt an "evidence warrant" to cut red tape and allow easier exchange between EU states of evidence to be used in court cases, just as a European arrest warrant has done by replacing long extradition procedures in cases of terrorism and serious crime.

Britain also wants the bloc to approve the exchange of pre-trial information that can help build cases against criminals and terrorism suspects.

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