French MPs to denounce Muslim veils, ban later

Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:53pm EST
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By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - France's parliament is likely to call in a resolution for a ban on Muslim face veils in public but take longer to turn that policy into law, deputies said on Thursday.

A parliamentary commission studying the sensitive issue, which has been discussed alongside a wider public debate about French national identity launched by President Nicolas Sarkozy, is due to publish its recommendations next Tuesday.

Polls say most voters want a legal ban on full-length face veils, known here by the Afghan term burqa although the few worn in France are Middle Eastern niqabs showing the eyes. Critics say a law would stigmatize Muslims and be unenforceable.

Jean-Francois Cope, parliamentary floor leader for Sarkozy's conservative UMP party, told France Inter radio said the plan was for "a resolution to explain and then a law to decide." A parliamentary resolution would not be legally binding.

Andre Gerin, head of the commission, agreed that deputies needed more time to draft a law, but told the daily Le Figaro: "The ban on the full facial veil will be absolute."

The debate has become entangled in campaigning for regional elections in March, in which Sarkozy's conservative UMP party hopes to break a near-monopoly of the opposition Socialists, who govern 20 of the 22 regions in metropolitan France.

Parliament was originally expected to pass a law before the election, but the government now wants that after the polls.

Positions cross party lines. The Socialist Party opposes a legal ban but some of its deputies have called for one. Commission head Gerin is a Communist.   Continued...

<p>Women wearing niqabs walk walk on a commercial street in Marseille, December 24, 2009. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier</p>