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France's lower house approves ban of face-covering veils

France's lower house of parliament has approved a ban on the full-face Islamic veil in public places, making it the second European country to do so after Belgium.

Woman wearing a full-face veil

Full-length face veils could soon be illegal in public places in France

France's Assemblee Nationale, the country's lower house of parliament, has approved a ban on full-length veils known as the burqa or niqab, which are worn by Muslim women. There were 335 votes for the bill and just one against.

"Passing this bill against concealing your face is a success on two fronts," France's Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said on Tuesday.

"First of all, it's a great success for democracy, which has been strengthened by a good quality debate in parliament. Secondly, it's a success for the French Republic and the values it stands for," she added.

While center-right parties like President Nicholas Sarkozy's UMP party and the Nouveau Centre party voted for the bill, most members of the opposition Socialist, Communist and Green parties refused to take part, because they fear it may go against the constitution.

Controversial bill

With five million Muslims, France is home to Europe's largest Muslim community. If the bill is signed into law, wearing the burqa or the niqab will incur a fine of 150 euros ($189).

The main body representing Muslims in France, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), has deplored the ban insisting that it stigmatizes the whole of Islam, when only about 2,000 women actually wear such a veil.

The law must still be approved by France's upper house, the Senate, in September. It will then have to go to France's constitutional council for a review.

France is the second European country to move towards a ban of full-face veils after Belgium's lower house of parliament voted in April to ban all clothing that covers or partially covers the face.

Author: Nicole Goebel (AFP/Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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