[LINK] French ban the burka in public
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Wed Jul 14 14:03:22 AEST 2010
French MPs vote to ban the burka
The lower house of the French parliament has voted to ban the Islamic face veil in public spaces.
The law won overwhelming support in the National Assembly's lower house and is expected to have similarly easy passage through the Senate in September.
But it then faces a tougher challenge in front of France's highest legal body, the Constitutional Council.
Similar laws to ban the burka are pending in Belgium, Spain and in some parts of Italy.
The issue is particularly sensitive in France, home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority.
Proponents say the ban asserts French values, but critics say it breaches human rights legislation and is being used as an election ploy.
They say the government is exploiting a non-problem to appease anti-immigration voters.
France is home to about 5 million Muslims, but it is thought only about 2,000 women wear the full-length veil.
The bill, which critics say stigmatises immigrants, bans people "from wearing, in a public place, garments designed to cover the face".
Offenders would be fined 150 euros ($216) or required to take part in a citizenship class.
Forcing someone to cover their face would be punishable by a one-year prison sentence and a 30,000 euro fine.
The law does not apply if the face is covered for carnivals or artistic events.
In the vote, 335 members of parliament approved the ban with just one against. Opposition Socialist and Green lawmakers abstained.
Justice minister Michele Alliot-Marie says the approval was a success for French republican values of liberty, equality, fraternity and secularism.
However, the Council of State, France's top legal advisory body, has already queried whether a ban is compatible with the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Movements to ban the garments are gathering pace across Europe. Polls in Italy, Spain, Germany and Britain have indicated widespread support.
The Belgian lower house of parliament voted in April to ban all clothing that covers or partially covers the face, while Spain is also considering a ban.
France had already banned the wearing of Muslim headscarves in schools and the civil service, although female university students may wear them.
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