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France's highest constitutional council approves burqa ban

France's highest constitutional council approves burqa ban

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FROM THE INDEPENDENT (UK). PARIS - A ban on the burka, and other full-face veils will take effect in France from next spring after an unexpected ruling by the country's highest legal authority last night.

In a decision that will divide the country, and may spark fears of Islamic fundamentalist reprisals, the Conseil Constitutionnel removed the final legal obstacle to the ban, by ruling that a so-called "anti-burka" law passed by both houses of the French parliament did not infringe fundamental liberties.

The law, likely to take effect in six months' time, makes it a criminal offence to "conceal one's face in public". The text makes no mention of Islam, or veils. It is, however, the direct result of a 15-month-long agitation by politicians, ranging from President Nicolas Sarkozy to the Communist mayor of a small town near Lyon, for a ban on the burka or its Arab equivalent, the niqab.

The Conseil Constitutionnel – the guardian of the French constitution – had been widely expected to object. Instead, it ruled that the law was a "reasonable balance" between personal liberty and the need to uphold other constitutional principles, such as women's rights and public order. The so-called "sages" decided, however, that the ban must not apply in "places of worship open to the public".

The timing of the ruling, at a moment when there have been repeated warnings of possible Islamist terrorist attacks in France and other European countries, may cause the French government some concern. Islamist fundamentalist websites have attacked the law – passed by the upper house of the French parliament last month – as an assault not just on full-face veils but on Islam itself.

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