Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 11:39 am (KSA) 08:39 am (GMT)

French draft bill to fine Burka-wearing women

French President Sarkozy himself has said that the burka is not welcome in France (File)
French President Sarkozy himself has said that the burka is not welcome in France (File)

Muslim women who wear the full Islamic veil in France will face a possible 750-euro ($1,000) fine, according to a draft bill unveiled Thursday by the leader of the parliamentary majority.

Jean-Francois Cope, who heads the governing UMP party in the National Assembly, told Le Figaro newspaper's weekly magazine that men who force their wives to wear the burka or niqab could face an even heavier fine.

"The law will address an issue of security," Cope said in an interview with the magazine.

 The proposed measure would prohibit the covering of the face in public places and on the streets, with the exception of special cultural events or carnivals 
Jean-Francois Cope, UMP

"The proposed measure would prohibit the covering of the face in public places and on the streets, with the exception of special cultural events or carnivals."

The draft legislation will be presented in the next two weeks and should come up for debate in parliament after the March regional elections, he said.

The majority leader, who is also openly campaigning to succeed President Nicolas Sarkozy as the right-wing candidate for the presidency in 2017, said the burka must be banned to defend women's rights.

"We can measure the modernity of a society by the way it treats and respects women," he said.

France's political establishment is divided on whether to ban the burka, with the opposition Socialists this week saying that it opposed a law even though Muslim women must be discouraged from wearing the full veil.

The burka debate has heated up ahead of the release at the end of the month of a much-awaited report by a parliamentary panel that has conducted six months of hearings on the issue.

Many politicians from the left and right have cautioned that a draconian law banning the head-to-toe veil would be difficult to enforce and probably face a challenge in the European rights court.

Sarkozy himself has said that the burka is not welcome in France but has not stated publicly whether legislation should be enacted.

Critics argue that a specific law enacted to ban the full veil would be tantamount to using a sledgehammer to swat a fly. Only 1,900 women wear the full veil in France, according to the interior ministry.

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