UK set to restrict war crimes prosecutions

LONDON - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said yesterday he would move to block private groups from launching war crimes prosecutions against visiting foreign dignitaries, following a controversy inflamed by an arrest warrant issued for former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni.

Brown said Britain's principle of universal jurisdiction - a wide-ranging legal concept that allows judges to issue warrants for nearly any visitor accused of committing war crimes anywhere in the world - was being abused.

While heads of state and senior ministers enjoy immunity, pro-Palestinian groups have used the law to try to arrest former or retired Israeli officials.

Brown said the law was being exploited by groups "who set out only to grab headlines, knowing their case has no realistic chance of a successful prosecution".

Israelis were outraged when an arrest warrant was issued for Livni in December before her planned visit to the UK. The warrant was revoked after she cancelled her trip, but Israeli officials said her treatment risked poisoning relations between the two countries.

Israel demanded that Britain change the law, which Israeli politicians describe as absurd. - Sapa-AP