PARIS, April 5 (UPI) -- President Nicolas Sarkozy refused to participate Tuesday in a debate held by his governing party on the role of Islam in France.
The UMP discussion in a hotel in Paris comes as the country prepares for a ban on women wearing the niqab or full facial veil in public, France 24 reported. The law, which applies to any form of facial covering, takes effect Monday.
Sarkozy and other leading members of the government said they did not want to join a debate that singles out Islam.
Under the new regulations, women cannot wear the niqab on the street and in all places open to the general public, including stores, restaurants and movie theaters. It does not apply in mosques and other places of worship, hotel rooms, company offices and private cars.
Police cannot remove the niqab. But women who refuse to take it off can be escorted to a police station where they must provide proof of identity.
Violators are subject to 150-euro ($214) fines. Those found to have forced someone to wear a veil would be even more heavily fined.
About 2,000 women in France wear the full facial veil. The law also applies to visitors, including women from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states who are big spenders on French fashion.