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Burkini Ban Spreads in French Beach Towns

FILE - Nissrine Samali, 20, gets into the sea wearing traditional Islamic dress, in Marseille, southern France.

Three more French towns are on the verge of banning the burkini, a full-body swimsuit worn by Muslim women.

Three Mediterranean towns -- Cannes, Villeneuve-Loubet and Sisco on the island of Corsica -- have already banned the garment on public beaches, causing an outcry in the Muslim community.

In the southwest, the mayor of Leucate was set to sign a municipal decree that would ban the burkini on public beaches. The mayors of Oye-Plage and Le Touquet also plan to follow suit.

The mainly conservative mayors who have imposed the ban say the garment, which leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, defies French laws on secularism.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also weighed in on the debate, lashing the wearing of the burkini as "not compatible with the values of France and the Republic" and saying he supported mayors who ban it if they acted in the public good.

Similar to a wetsuit

While critics of the ban point out that the burkini is nearly identical to a traditional wetsuit commonly worn by scuba divers and surfers.

The burkini debate is particularly sensitive in France given deadly attacks by Islamist militants, including bombings and shootings in Paris that killed 130 people last November.

Even the minister for women's rights, Laurence Rossignol, said municipal bans on the burkini should not be seen in the context of terrorism, but she supported the bans.

The Corsican town of Sisco on Sunday became the third to introduce a ban after a brawl in a cove between locals and families of North African origin left five people injured.

A witness said the violence broke out after tourists took pictures of women swimming in burkinis on the Mediterranean island. Investigators are still investigating what happened.