Reuters International

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's parliament approved anti-terrorism legislation on Thursday that allows the government to curb civil rights during an emergency, signalling growing concern over the threat of Islamist militants.

The changes, which were approved on a first reading and must be endorsed again, give state security officers, expand what police and security agencies may do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Recent attacks in Europe have raised fears the Balkan country will be targeted. Several eastern European countries, including Poland and Hungary, have already approved anti-terrorism laws. Romania adopted similar plans.

Human rights organisations criticised the measures, saying they carried dire implications for free expression and other human rights. Critics also said it is difficult to define when an anti-terror operation is needed.

Bulgaria's law allows police access to private property during an anti-terror operation, giving them right to use citizens' cars if necessary. They also will authorised to restrict people's movements, suspend access to the Internet or seize documents of those suspected of preparing a terrorist act.

In addition, the authorities will be allowed to keep for up to three years personal communication data they have gathered, up from the current six months.

The State Agency for National Security - Bulgaria's counter-intelligence agency - will be allowed to send undercover agents to prevent suspects from preparing or carrying out a terror attack. Bulgaria's armed forces will be authorised to intervene when a threat is detected or in the event of a terror act.

Institutions such as schools will be obliged to develop and apply anti-terror measures.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov, editing by Larry King)

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