France's veil ban effective in April

March 4, 2011 at 9:01 AM
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PARIS, March 4 (UPI) -- Beginning in April, full-face veils will be illegal in public places or on the streets of France, a move critics call an attempt to woo far-right voters.

Women can be fined about $210 for wearing the niqab, the full-face Muslim veil, in any public place, such as sidewalks, public transportation, hospitals, theaters or museums, under provisions of the controversial law, the British newspaper The Guardian reported Friday. The law goes into effect April 11.

Face veils can be worn in women's homes, places of worship or in a private vehicle.

Critics said President Nicolas Sarkozy pushed the law to secure far-right votes in next year's presidential election, noting he has come under fire for stigmatizing France's Muslim population in the process. He has ordered a nationwide debate on the role of Islam in secular France and has said he wants no halal food options in school canteens, no prayers outside and no minarets.

Halal refers to meat from animals slaughtered in manner proscribed by Islamic law.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has tried to distance himself from Sarkozy's position, saying he opposed the "stigmatization of Muslims," the British newspaper reported.

Officially known as the law against "covering one's face in public places," the issue is one of public order and gender equity, Fillon said. Under this definition, wearing any face covering, such as hooded jackets or masks, would be illegal, The Guardian said. Already, the French government sought exemptions for motorcycle helmets and sports equipment, as well as exceptions for people in parades, celebrations or places of worship.

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