Banning Islamic veils
France's ruling party, the conservative Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), says it plans to present a bill to parliament in January, which would ban full Islamic veils in all public places. The bill is to be presented in the first two weeks of next month, just before the conclusions of a French parliamentary inquiry on the burqa and niqab are published.
Jean-Francois Cope, the parliamentary party leader of the UMP, said the measure was meant to defend France from extremists.
"There are principles at stake: Extremists are putting the republic to the test by promoting a practice that they know is contrary to the basic principles of our country," he said.
Veils "not welcome" in France
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said that veils that hide women's faces in public are "not welcome" in France. Most politicians say they would like to see the results of the parliamentary inquiry on the veils before they decide on the need for a law.
According to French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, about 1,900 women in France wear full Islamic veils. Hortefeux has said that applications for French citizenship or residence by burqa wearing women, along with their husbands, should be "systematically" refused. However, reports by French intelligence services put the number of women wearing burqas at "fewer than 400."
In the Paris newspaper Le Figaro, Cope said that the move was "a law of liberation" and not a ban.
A complete ban on Islamic veils could be met with legal obstacles, in the same way the Swiss ban on minarets was challenged by the European Court of Human Rights. The French government has already been accused of racism with regard to its campaign to discuss national identity.
In 2004, it passed a law banning headscarves and all other "conspicuous" religious symbols in state schools.
Editor: Chuck Penfold