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President Sarkozy says 'no place' for burqa in secular France

In a major speech Thursday about what it means to be French, President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the burqa and the "subservience of women" had no place in secular France. France has one of Europe's largest Muslim populations.


AFP - President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday again insisted that the head-to-toe veil worn by some Muslim women had no place in secular France.

"France is a country where there is no place for the burka, where there is no place for the subservience of women," he said in a major speech on French national identity.

France, home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority, has set up a special panel of 32 lawmakers to consider whether a law should be enacted to bar Muslim women from wearing the full veil, known as a burka or niqab.

The country 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 to defend secularism.

Sarkozy in June said the burka was not a symbol of religious faith but a sign of women's "subservience" and declared that the full veil was "not welcome" here.

He was speaking Thursday in the Alpine town of La Chapelle en Vercors in his first intervention in a countrywide debate launched last month on what it means to be French.

Public meetings are due to take place in some 450 government offices around the country, involving campaigners, students, parents and teachers, unions, business leaders and French and European lawmakers.

The debate will end with a conference early next year on the twin questions of "what it means to be French today" and "what immigration contributes to our national identity."

The Socialist opposition has accused the government of pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment to shore up support on the right ahead of regional elections in March.

It has warned the debate risks alienating France's large communities of immigrant descent.

But Sarkozy said Thursday that "this is a noble debate" and that "those who do not want this debate are afraid of it."

Sarkozy made national identity a key campaign theme when he was running for the presidency in 2007.

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