Bush urges passage of spy bill, may delay Africa trip

( dpa )- US President George W Bush on Thursday urged the House of Representatives to quickly pass a terrorism surveillance measure and threatened to delay his planned departure for Africa the next day to oversee the measure's passage.

A temporary surveillance measure is to expire Saturday and Bush says the action is necessary to protect the country from terrorist attacks.

The US Senate on Tuesday approved the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which includes authority to carry out secret wiretaps on foreign communications and legal immunity for phone companies that have carried out wiretapping without warrants.

But the lower House of Representatives has not been able to come to agreement with the Senate over immunity for the phone companies.

"Failure to act would harm our ability to monitor new terrorist activities and could re-open dangerous gaps in our intelligence," Bush said in pushing the House to approve the Senate measure before leaving Washington for a scheduled break. "Failure to act would also make the private sector less willing to help us protect the country, and this is unacceptable."

He condemned the delay and stressed that Congress has had six months to develop a bill after passing temporary legislation to replace an earlier version of the law that expired last year.

Republicans in Congress protested Democrats' focus on another unrelated measure instead of discussing the intelligence bill by walking off the floor of the House.

"The majority says we've got space on the floor of the House to do some political stunt, but we don't have space to do what's in our nation's best interest, and that's to protect the American people," minority leader John Boehner said.

The president is scheduled to leave Washington Friday for a five- nation trip to Africa designed to highlight his administration's effort to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria on the continent.

He is to visit Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia and told reporters even if he delays the trip he will still make stops in all five countries.

In November, the House approved a different version of the bill that omitted immunity for the phone companies.

The Senate version protects phone companies from lawsuits by customers who claim it was illegal for telecom firms to hand over data to government investigators without warrants from a secret intelligence court set up decades ago.

The Senate also would let investigators place wiretaps and only then seek review by the secret court as to whether there were abuses that affected Americans.

Critics fear the law gives the government unprecedented powers to spy on Americans without a court order.

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