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- Aug 14, 2009
Women who wear Islamic veils in public will be liable to a fine of more than £700 under strict new laws being formulated in France.
The amount could be doubled for Muslim men who force their wives or other female members of their family to cover their faces.
Jean-Francois Cope, president of Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling UMP Party in the French parliament, said the new legislation was intended to protect the 'dignity' and 'security' of women.
He is set to file the draft law in the National Assembly after Mr Sarkozy said veils are 'not welcome' as they intimidate and alienate non-Muslims, especially in a secular country like France.
'We want a ban in public areas,' said Mr Cope, making clear that the veil would not be allowed in public buildings, nor on the streets of France, as it encourages extremism.
Mr Cope said: 'The wearing of the burkha will be subject to a fine, probably of the 4th class, which is to say 750 euros.'
He said the fine would apply to 'all people on the public street whose face is entirely covered'.
The terms 'burkha' and 'niqab' often are used interchangeably in France.
The former refers to a full-body covering worn largely in Afghanistan with only a mesh screen over the eyes, whereas the latter is a full-body veil, often in black, with slits for the eyes.
A parliamentary inquiry into the wearing of all-body burkhas and niqabs is due to publish its recommendations next month.
In earlier debates Mr Cope said: 'Permanently masking one's face in public spaces is not an expression of individual liberty. It's a negation of oneself, a negation of others, a negation of social life.'
But he conceded that a complete ban faced certain legal obstacles, including a possible challenge before the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that it limits religious freedom.
The burkha is a full-body covering worn largely in Afghanistan with a mesh screen over the eyes, and the niqab is a full-body veil with slits for the eyes.
President Sarkozy has called them 'a sign of subservience and debasement that imprison women', saying they are 'not welcome in France'.
The country's immigration minister Eric Besson has also described them as 'an affront to national identity'.
France - home to more than five million Muslims, the largest population in Europe - passed a law forbidding veils and other religious symbols in schools in 2004.
The latest move to outlaw such garments comes as a national identity debate rages between those defending multiculturalism, and those who believe France is being overrun by foreign cultures.
Despite the controversy, a recent police report revealed that only around 400 women across the Channel wore veils, which are common in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia but not in the North African countries where most Muslim immigrants to France came from.