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Belgium and France set to ban burka

Photo: Reuters

Belgium is set to ban wearing the Islamic burka in public on Thursday as its parliament prepares to vote on the measure. The ruling parties and opposition support the proposal, while the home affairs committee unanimously backed a ban that would prevent the wearing of clothes or veils that do not allow the identification of the wearer.

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The proposal enables the issuing of fine of 15 to 25 euros, and a possible prison sentence of up to seven days, for anyone ignoring the law, unless they have police permission.

However today’s parliamentary proceedings could be disrupted as a rift between the Flemish liberals and francophone parties threatens to tear apart the ruling coalition.

“The Open VLD has lost confidence in the government,” party president Alexander De Croo told reporters, after long talks between parties from the two linguistic regions.

Elsewhere in Europe, France said yesterday that it would also go ahead with its intended ban on the wearing of a full-face veil in public, despite warnings that the proposal could be unconstitutional.

“We’re legislating for the future,” government spokesperson Luc Chatel told reporters after a cabinet meeting chaired by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“Wearing a full veil is a sign of a community closing in on itself and of a rejection of our values,” he added.

The ban will also apply to tourists, according to a comment from the Junior Minister for Families.

“When you arrive in France, you respect the laws in force,” Nadine Morano said on Thursday.

As in Belgium, there is strong parliamentary support for the measure in France, although rights groups have criticised the move.

"Treating pious Muslim women like criminals won't help integrate them," Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Wednesday.

They point out that twenty of Belgium’s municipalities already prohibit full-face veils, and 29 women, of the estimated 400,000 Muslims living in the country, were stopped by police in eight municipalities last year.

Human Rights Watch says the ban “violates the fundamental right to freedom of religion, thought, and conscience as well as the right to personal autonomy”, adding that the ban is also incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

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