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France burqa ban to take effect April 11

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon [official profile, in French; BBC profile] confirmed in the Official Journal [official website, in French] Thursday that the controversial law [materials, in French] banning the burqa [JURIST news archive] and other face coverings in public places takes force April 11. Violators wearing a face covering may be fined up to 150 euros and/or required to attend citizenship classes. In contrast, anyone convicted of forcing a woman to cover her face may be fined up to 30,000 euro and jailed for one year [AFP report, in French], and the penalties double if that woman is a minor. The ban is not exclusive to the burqa, prohibiting any covering of the face in a public place [Metro report]. Controversy has surrounded the definition of "public place" [Guardian report], including streets, buses, trains, shops, banks, restaurants, theaters, libraries, museums, hospitals and while picking up children from school. The few exceptions include places of worship, the home and while traveling as a passenger in a car. Critics of the ban have accused French President Nicholas Sarkozy [official profile, in French; BBC profile] of pandering to right-wing voters [UPI report] in anticipation of the upcoming regional elections.

In October, the French Constitutional Council [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the ban conforms with the Constitution. The bill was approved by the National Assembly in July and by the Senate [JURIST reports] in September. Legislation banning the use of Islamic burqas has been a point of contention recently in many European countries. In October, Dutch politician Geert Wilders [personal website, in Dutch] said that the Netherlands will ban the burqa [JURIST report] as part of the government's plan to form a minority coalition. In August, Austria's conservative Freedom Party [official website, in German] called for a special vote [JURIST report] on whether to ban face veils and the construction of minarets, two of the most visible symbols of the Islamic faith. In July, Spain's lower house of parliament rejected a proposal [JURIST report] to ban the burqa and other full face veils by a vote of 183 to 162 with 2 abstaining.

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