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Agence France Presse

US House Holds Rare Secret Session on Spy Bill

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WASHINGTON - The US House of Representatives on Thursday agreed to hold a rare secret session, the first for a quarter century, on a wiretapping anti-terror bill, as a standoff with the White House deepened.0314 12

Democratic leaders agreed to a request by Republicans for the extraordinary session, on legislation opposed by President George W. Bush.

House security officers were directed to seal and sweep the chamber for listening devices, and to ensure reporters, and members of the public were cleared, before the session, believed to be only the fifth ever such event, could start.

A vote on the legislation, which the White House opposes because it does not provide a retroactive legal shield to telecommunications firms which cooperated in government eavesdropping after the September 11 attacks, was expected Friday.

The House let the previous law expire on February 16 after it refused to rubber stamp a Senate bill that would have given telecommunication companies immunity from prosecution.

The new version would grant immunity from future prosecution, but not retroactive immunity for the companies' past participation in the warrantless wiretaps by US intelligence agencies.

If the House bill is passed, it is thought unlikely to make it through the Senate.

"Companies that may have helped us save lives should be thanked for their patriotic service, not subjected to billion-dollar lawsuits that will make them less willing to help in the future," Bush said earlier.

"They should not leave for their Easter recess without getting the Senate bill to my desk."

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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