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France Sets up Commission to Study Wearing of Burqas

The French National Assembly has agreed to set up a commission to study the wearing of the head-to-toe Islamic covering known as the burqa. The decision was made a day after the country's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, spoke out against the garment.

The parliamentary commission will be made up of about 30 lawmakers from the political right and left. They will take a look at the prevalence of the burqa in France, following criticism by prominent politicians that the all-covering garment demeans Muslim women who wear it.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy waded into the debate during an address Monday at the Chateau of Versailles, outside Paris.

Mr. Sarkozy said the burqa is not a religious symbol, but rather one that lowers the status of women. He said France cannot accept that a woman should be imprisoned behind a cloth grill, deprived of all dignity. The French president backed the idea of a parliamentary inquiry into the burqa.

The inquiry may ultimately pave the way for burqas to be banned in France. The country already bars female public servants from wearing headscarves at work and girls from wearing them in public schools.

But the matter has divided the French government, with some members saying a law banning the burqa is not the best way to proceed. It has also divided France's five million member Muslim community.

Several Muslim leaders, including the head of France's Representative Muslim Council Mohammed Moussaoui, are against the wearing of burqas. But Mr. Moussaoui has warned an inquiry commission risks stigmatizing the Muslim community.