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January 25, 2010

France Moves Closer to Banning Face-Covering Veils

Report calls for banning a full veil covering the face from schools, hospitals, government buildings and public transportation

France has moved closer to banning the face-covering Islamic veil, with the publication of a long-awaited report recommending the garment be barred from public transportation and institutions.

The report was authored by a parliamentary commission appointed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and comprising lawmakers from both the right and left.  It calls for banning a full veil covering the face from schools, hospitals, government buildings and public transportation.  The study also recommends denying residence permits and citizenship to anybody displaying signs of 'radical religious practice.' 

But it stops short of recommending a general ban on wearing the veil in public spaces such as streets.

Communist Party deputy Andre Gerin, who headed the committee, says its members unanimously condemn the wearing of the face veil. 

In remarks broadcast on French radio, Gerin said what is hidden behind this full veil are scandalous practices, like religious fundamentalism that go against French values.

The report is the latest in a growing chorus of calls to bar the the face veil, which is sometimes called a niqab or burqa.  Some lawmakers from Mr. Sarkozy's ruling UMP party want a law against the garment, but he has called for a less stringent parliamentary resolution.

Critics, who include Socialist opposition lawmakers, human rights groups and members of France's estimated five-to-six million Muslims, argue against a ban.  Particularly since only a small number of women, less than 2,000 according to the government, wear the full veil in France.