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Prime minister in favour of banning the burqa

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-01-12

French Prime Minister François Fillon added fire to a heated debate on Tuesday by telling deputies from his governing right-wing UMP party that he is in favour of banning the full Islamic veil through a raft of legal and parliamentary measures.

AFP - French Prime Minister Francois Fillon on Tuesday told lawmakers he was in favour of banning the full Islamic veil through a raft of legal and parliamentary measures, deputies said.

Fillon told a meeting of deputies from his governing right-wing UMP party that parliament should adopt a resolution outlining France's rejection of the burqa and that several "legislative texts and regulations" should follow.

The prime minister waded into a heated debate over whether to bar Muslim women from wearing the full veil, known as the niqab or burqa, just weeks before a parliamentary panel was due to release a report on the issue.

Many politicians from the left and right have cautioned that a draconian law banning the head-to-toe veil would be difficult to enforce and probably face a challenge in the European rights court.

"The goal is to ensure that the burqa does not have a place in France," Fillon said, according to one lawmaker.

The ban on the full veil must be applied "through a resolution that is sufficiently firm to outline the principles and through legislative texts and regulations to apply these principles," he said.

Home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority, France set up the special panel six months ago to consider whether a law should be enacted to ban the burqa.

Sarkozy himself has said that the burqa is not welcome in France but has not stated publicly whether legislation should be enacted.

France's political establishment is divided on whether to ban the burqa, with the opposition Socialists saying that they opposed a law even though they believed Muslim women should be discouraged from wearing the full veil.

A parliamentary resolution would provide the governing majority with political cover, by making a national statement, but there could also be amendments introduced to amend security laws, according to deputies.

Jean-Francois Cope, leader of the UMP majority in the National Assembly, last week unveiled a draft bill that would make it illegal to cover the face in public places and on the streets, with the exception of carnivals.

Under that measure that has yet to be submitted to parliament, burqa-wearing women could be fined up to 750 euros (1,000 dollars).

Men who force their wives to wear the burqa or niqab could face an even heavier fine, according to Cope's proposal.

Critics argue that a specific law enacted to ban the full veil would be tantamount to using a sledgehammer to swat a fly. Only 1,900 women wear the full veil in France, according to the interior ministry.

Parliament speaker Bernard Accoyer warned that a broad ban on the veil would likely be overturned in court and that such a development would be "a victory for extremists."

France has had a long-running debate on how far it is willing to go to accommodate Islam without undermining the tradition of separating church and state, enshrined in a flagship 1905 law.

In 2004, it passed a law banning headscarves or any other "conspicuous" religious symbols in state schools.

Date created : 2010-01-12