French parliament passes burqa ban


France's lower house of parliament has voted to ban wearing full-length Muslim veils in public places.

The vote puts France on the road to becoming the second European country to take steps to make wearing the burqa or niqab a criminal offence.

The law, which must still be approved by the Senate, would mean women wearing the veil in public can be fined €150.

There were 336 votes for the bill and just one against at the National Assembly. Most members of the main opposition group, the Socialist Party, refused to take part.

The ban has been hugely contentious in France, where almost 10 per cent of the 62 million population is Muslim. Its critics point to the fact that fewer than 2,000 women wear a face veil in France, according to the interior ministry’s estimate, and argue that the measure would stigmatise Muslims.

However, opinion polls suggest a majority of voters support the ban. France already bans Muslim headscarves and other religious symbols from schools.

The ban will now go in September to the Senate, where it also is likely to pass. Its biggest hurdle will likely come after that, when France’s constitutional watchdog scrutinises it.

The Belgian lower house of parliament voted in April to ban all clothing that covers or partially covers the face.