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French interior minister Cazeneuve hosts talks on the future of Islam in France

Matthieu Alexandre, AFP | French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve speaks to journalists after a meeting with Muslim leaders on August 24, 2016 in Paris

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve held a day of talks on Islam's place in France Monday in an effort to better integrate the religion with the “values of the Republic”, in the wake of a dispute over the burkini full-body swimsuit.

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Cazeneuve told the La Croix newspaper ahead of Monday's meeting that he wants to create a foundation to help promote "an Islam of France" that respects French secular values.

The foundation would finance education and cultural projects and non-religious training of imams, such as history of religion classes, he said.

However Cazeneuve ruled out drafting a national law to ban burkinis, noting that it would be "unconstitutional" for France to pass such a law and the move could cause irreparable harm.

A foundation to address relations between French Muslims and the state

Some right-wing leaders are seeking the move after a top court last week overturned a municipal ban on the full-body swimsuit in the Mediterranean town of Villeneuve-Loubet.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters on Monday that he would change the country's constitution to ban the burkini if he is re-elected to his former role in a vote next April.

Building bridges after a bitter summer

Although the controversy over the burkini ban is far from over, leaders of France’s Muslim community hope that last week’s ruling by the Conseil d'État, France’s top administrative court, will help decisively turn the page on the issue now that the ban has been overturned in at least one town.

“This positive step will bring an end to the nauseating story of the burkini,” said Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (Conseil français du culte musulman, or CFCM).

>> Watch more on FRANCE24.com: “French Connections: Understanding the burkini ban”

Ahead of Monday’s talks at the interior ministry in Paris, Cazeneuve said he would name veteran politician Jean-Pierre Chevènement to head the independent body charged with handling relations between the state and the religion's representatives.

The recent burkini controversy has exposed secular France’s difficulties grappling with religious tolerance after Islamist militant attacks in a Normandy church and the Riviera city of Nice in July. Images of armed police apparently enforcing the ban on a woman on a beach in Nice have added to the controversy.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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