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Spain's upper house of parliament has called on the government to introduce a ban on wearing the Muslim full-body veil in public, but the governing Socialists have dismissed the move as political point-scoring.
About one million Muslims live in Spain, many in Catalonia
The Spanish senate approved a motion on Wednesday urging Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government to ban Islamic full-body veils in public places.
The vote, 131-129, was passed with the support of the conservative Popular Party and two smaller conservative regional parties, the CiU and UPN.
The motion specifically calls for a ban on the niqab, which leaves only the eyes uncovered.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, deputy leader of the Popular Party Maria Dolores de Cospedal called the vote "a very important step in favor of freedom and women's equality."
Zapatero's Socialists accused the Popular Party of political demagoguery
Zapatero's Spanish Socialist Workers' Party had proposed an alternative text, supported by all other parties in the senate, that called for the government to "collaborate with Muslim communities," work through education and use existing laws to "guarantee the respect of women's dignity."
The Socialists also accused the Popular Party of using the controversial issue for political gain, since the full-body veils are extremely uncommon in Spain.
Several Spanish municipalities - including Barcelona and several other cities in the northeastern autonomous region of Catalonia - have already introduced bans on Muslim full-body veils, or are planning to do so.
Immigration from Muslim-majority countries has been increasing in Spain since the 1990s. About one million of Spain's 47 million residents are Muslim, and many of them of Pakistani descent living in Catalonia.
Debates over the full-body veil ban are also raging in France - where parliament is to debate a cabinet-approved bill next month - and Belgium - where the proposal is awaiting approval from the upper house of parliament.
Author: Andrew Bowen (dpa, AFP, KNA)
Editor: Andreas Illmer