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Europe

Belgium to impose ban on full veil as France prepares similar bill

Video by Luke SHRAGO

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-22

Belgian lawmakers are expected to approve a bill on Thursday that bans wearing clothes that conceal one's identity, including the full Islamic veil, in public places. France's government is drawing up a similar law.

AFP- Belgian lawmakers are set Thursday to impose a ban on wearing clothes that obscure faces, such as Islamic veils, the first clampdown of its kind in Europe, unless the nation's political crisis disrupts their vote. Meanwhile, in France, the government is drawing up a similar law to ban full-face veils from all public spaces.


In Belgium

On March 31, the federal parliament's home affairs committee voted unanimously to endorse a nationwide ban on clothes or veils that do not allow the wearer to be fully identified, including the full-face niqab and burqa.

Those who ignore it could face a fine of 15-25 euros (20-34 dollars) and/or a jail sentence of up to seven days, unless they have police permission to wear the garments.

'These bans will not help women who are forced to wear the veil.' - J. Sunderland, Human Rights Watch, Milan

The governing parties and opposition agree on the move, and the full house is widely expected to easily endorse the draft law, which is on the agenda for Thursday.

But a deep political crisis is looming after a party threatened to pull out of the government if tense negotiations between the French and Dutch-language communities on power-sharing are not finalised in 24 hours.

"There is a hitch. The agenda of the chamber could be thrown into disarray depending on how the political situation evolves," one official said.

A leading rights watchdog late Wednesday warned against the move saying it would be counterproductive.

"Bans like this lead to a lose-lose situation," said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. "They violate the rights of those who choose to wear the veil and do nothing to help those who are compelled to do so."

It said there was no evidence that wearing the full veil in public threatened public safety, public order, health, morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

And rather than help women who are coerced into wearing the veil, a ban would limit, if not eliminate, their ability to seek advice and support, it said, adding that the primary impact of legislation of this kind would be to confine these women to their homes, rather than to liberate them.

The kingdom's leaders and factions have held late night talks all week in an effort to end the standoff, part of a row over the devolution of federal powers which has plagued Belgium since the last elections in June 2007.

A mediator - former premier Jean-Luc Dehaene - charged by King Albert II to pave the way for an agreement conceded late Tuesday that he had been unable to find the compromise needed to rally all parties.

Prime Minister Yves Leterme is due to face parliament at 1215 GMT on Thursday and it had been hoped that a deal would be concluded well before then.

Flanders, Belgium's Dutch-speaking region accounting for some 60 percent of the 10.5 million population, has stepped up its efforts to seek more powers to reflect its prosperity.


In France

In Paris, the spokesman for President Nicolas Sarkozy's government, Luc Chatel, said a bill banning full-face veils from all public spaces would be presented to ministers in May and would go beyond a mere ban on women wearing the niqab and the burqa while dealing with French officials.

"We're legislating for the future. Wearing a full veil is a sign of a community closing in on itself and a rejection of our values," he said.

Last month, the State Council - France's top administrative authority - warned Sarkozy against a full ban on the veil, suggesting instead an order that women uncover their faces for identity checks or for state business.

"It appears to the State Council that a general and absolute ban on the full veil as such can have no incontestable judicial basis," the council said, suggesting that a full ban could fall victim to judicial review.

But there remains broad support in parliament for such a ban and the government is determined to press on with a law, which it says would affect only around 2,000 Muslim French women who currently cover their faces.

According to Chatel, Sarkozy told Wednesday's cabinet meeting that the veil was an "assault on women's dignity".

The vast majority of Muslim women, in France and elsewhere, do not wear a full veil, but the niqab, which covers the face apart from the eyes, is widely worn on the Arabian peninsular and in the Gulf states. The burqa, a shapeless full-body cloak that covers the face with a fabric grille, is worn in some areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Date created : 2010-04-22

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