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French mayor bans 'burkinis' from Cannes beaches on ‘security’ fears

AFP PHOTO, Anoek DE GROOT | Muslim fashion designer Aheda Zanetti (L) makes adjustments to a burkini worn by Australian model Mecca Laalaa in Sydney on 12 January 2007

The popular French tourist city of Cannes has banned full-body, head-covering swimsuits from its beaches, citing security reasons - a measure some are decrying as a discriminatory anti-Muslim move that only worsens religious tensions.


The ban on so-called burkinis, at the height of the French Riviera's vacation season, comes as France remains on edge after deadly Islamic extremist attacks on nearby Nice and on a Catholic church in northwest France.

A second Riviera town, Villeneuve-Loubet, imposed on August 5 a ban on the full-body swimsuit from its beaches because of sanitary reasons.

"I was informed that there was a couple on one of our beaches where the wife was swimming fully dressed," the Villeneuve-Loubet mayor, Lionnel Luca said.

"I considered that unacceptable for hygienic reasons and that in general it was unwelcome."

Cannes Mayor David Lisnard issued an ordinance in late July forbidding beachwear that doesn't respect "good morals and secularism." It notes that swimwear "manifesting religious affiliation in an ostentatious way, while France and its religious sites are currently the target of terrorist attacks, could create risks of trouble to public order."

>> Read more on "French burkini party ban sparks political storm"

A City Hall official said the measure, in effect until the end of August, could apply to burkini-style swimsuits. Violators risk a 38 euro ($42) fine.

The mayor calls the burkini "the uniform of extremist Islamism, not of the Muslim religion." In an interview published Friday in Nice-Matin newspaper, Lisnard said the measure could also apply to saris worn by Indian bathers, because the clothing could hamper rescuers' efforts to save them in an emergency.

The Cannes beach ban is just the latest of many French measures seen as singling out Islam, the country's second larrgest religion, in the name of official secularism.

An administrative court in Nice rejected on Saturday a plea by the CCIF, an umbrella organisation of groups against Islamophobia, to suspend the Cannes ordinance, saying that the town’s decision “respected” France’s constitutional provisions on secularism. The CCIF immediately retorted that they would appeal to the Conseil d’État, the highest administrative court in France.

Private 'burkini party' banned

Last week, the mayor of Les Pennes-Mirabeau -- a suburb of the southern French city of Marseille -- banned a women’s burkini party planned by Muslim community group Smile 13 at a local water park. The left-wing mayor, Michel Amiel, said the event would be divisive and “a provocation”. The deputy mayor Dominique Bucci backed the ban, saying it would be a breach of the equality between men and women and "trample" on France’s secular values. Since it announced its burkini day on Facebook earlier this month, Smile 13 has received bullets through the mail.

French law already forbids face-covering veils anywhere in public, and headscarves in public schools. Proponents say the laws preserve secular values and protect women from religious oppression. But critics say they've deepened the religious divide, and Islamic State extremists say the laws are justification for attacking France.

Legal questions

The local branch of the Human Rights League warned that Cannes' burkini ban could further alienate French Muslims.

France is currently struggling to balance its cherished secular values with its multicultural society following a wave of deadly terrorist attacks claimed by the so-called Islamic State group.

The Collective Against Islamophobia in France said it's filing a lawsuit challenging the legality of the Cannes measure.

It urged tolerance, noting that Muslims made up about a third of the 85 victims of the July 14 truck attack on the Nice seafront. Two weeks later, after extremists killed a Catholic priest near Rouen, Muslims across France attended Mass in a symbol of solidarity and a denunciation of terrorism.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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