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A French muslim man has rejected accusations by the French government that he has four wives, insisting that he has only one wife and several mistresses.
Hebbadj has insisted he only has one wife
A French muslim man accused by the government of practicing polygamy insisted on Monday that he had only one wife and several mistresses, and was not breaking French law.
At a press conference on Monday, Lies Hebbadj, an Algerian-born 35 year-old butcher, responded to suggestions by French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux that he should lose his French passport because he was believed to have four wives who had given him 12 children who were all receiving welfare benefits.
"As far as I know, it is not forbidden to have mistresses in France, nor is it forbidden under Islam," said Hebbadj. "If you lose your French nationality for having mistresses, then a lot of French men would have been stripped of their citizenship."
Hebbadj became a French citizen in 1999, after marrying a woman with French nationality.
Hebbadj's case received political and media attention after his wife was stopped and fined by police in Nantes for driving while wearing a full-face veil, known as a "niqab".
She was fined 22 euros ($29) on April 2 because police said the veil restricted her view and compromised her ability to drive safely. She has so far refused to pay the fine.
The political row over Hebbadj comes as the French government is preparing legislation to ban the wearing of the full-face veil. French president Nicolas Sarkozy has said that the veil is "not welcome" in France, calling it an affront to French values that denigrates women.
However, Sarkozy's critics say he is simply pandering to far-right voters after his party's defeat in regional elections last month.
Sarkozy says full veils are not welcome in France
French opinion polls show that 64 percent of the population either support a full ban on the niqab and burqa or approve of them at least being outlawed from state institutions.
The head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Mohamed Moussaoui, said Hebbadj's case had been inflated by the media.
"If there was polygamy, the laws are clear on that and Muslims in France are respectful of laws," said Moussaoui.
He added that, in contrast, a weekend gun attack on a mosque in southern France had received little attention.
A draft law for the ban on full-face veils is set to be presented to French ministers next month.
Editor: Susan Houlton