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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

French parliament to debate Islamic veil ban

The French parliament is due to begin a debate on plans to ban the wearing of full Islamic veils in public.

The legislation in front of the lower house will make it illegal to wear the niqab or burka anywhere in public.

It envisages fines of about 150 euros (£119) for women who break the law, with tougher penalties for men found to be pressuring their wife or sister.

A vote on the proposed legislation will be taken next week before a full senate vote in September.

The veil ban, which has the backing of President Nicolas Sarkozy, is also winning support in other parts of Europe.
Belgium's lower house has approved a similar measure and Spain's senate recently narrowly voted to impose a ban too.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon set the tenor of this debate last week at the opening of a new mosque in the suburbs of Paris, the BBC's Christian Fraser reports from the French capital.

Muslims who wore the full veil were "hijacking Islam" he said, providing a "dark sectarian image" of the religion.

There are only about 2,000 women who wear the full veil in France, and most of these wear the niqab rather than the burka.

Critics of the new legislation point to studies by the interior ministry that show many women do not fit the stereotype of marginalised, oppressed women, since a large number have taken the veil of their own volition.

The police unions have already expressed concerns over how such a law will be enforced and the idea of pressuring women to remove the veil.

There are also human rights considerations, and legal experts warn the broad scope of the law banning the veil in all public places as opposed to state institutions could be overturned by the constitutional court.

BBC News