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Belgium to mull ban on Islamic veils in public
Brussels, Apr 22 (Agencies)
Published on 22 Apr. 2010 11:05 PM IST
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Belgium lawmakers are due to debate legislation that would ban full-face Islamic veils in public.
If they approve the draft law, Belgium would become the first European country to ban the wearing of the burka or niqab in public places.
Critics say a ban violates the rights of those who choose to wear such veils.
However, it was unclear whether Thursday afternoon’s vote would go forward after a Dutch-speaking party pulled out of the government.
The Flemish Liberal party made the move on Thursday morning after pushing for a long-standing dispute about power-sharing to be resolved.
The Belgian vote was scheduled a day after France detailed its own plans to ban full veils.
The legislation in Belgium does not specifically mention veils, the BBC’s Dominic Hughes in Brussels says.
Instead, it says the ban applies to clothing that hides someone’s identity in public places such as parks, buildings and on the street.
Anyone who ignores the ban would face a fine of 15-25 euros (£13-£21; $20-34) and/or a jail sentence of up to seven days, unless they have police permission to wear such garments.
Supporters of the bill - which has cross-party support - say it is necessary as a security measure, to allow police to correctly identify people.
Stefaan van Heck, an MP with the Belgian Green Party, said it was also important for social integration.
“If you want good integration and good communication between all the many different communities we have in Brussels, it’s important that we see each other when we can speak to each other,” he told the BBC.
There are probably just 30 women who wear full-face veils, out of a Muslim population of around half a million, our correspondent says.
The Muslim Executive of Belgium has warned it would lead to women who do wear the veil being trapped in their homes.
Selma, a Belgian woman who wears the niqab, said it was her personal choice to the wear the garment.
“Everyone should be free to express themselves the way they want according to their conviction and religion,” she told the BBC.
French debate
On Wednesday French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a cabinet meeting that the government should submit a bill to parliament on a ban on veils “in all public places”, government spokesman Luc Chatel said.
Mr Sarkozy said the full veils “do not pose a problem in a religious sense, but threaten the dignity of women”, Mr Chatel was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
Last year, the French president said such veils oppressed women and were not welcome in France.
The proposal has provoked intense debate in France about religious freedom in a secular society, as well as the position of Muslims in France.
The country’s highest administrative body, the State Council, has suggested such a law might be unconstitutional.

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