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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 December, 2003, 18:35 GMT
Protest over French headscarf ban

By Allan Little
BBC Paris correspondent

Hundreds of people have protested in the French capital, Paris, about government plans to ban the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in state schools.

The demonstrators were mostly young women, many with their heads covered.

Muslim girls protesting in Paris
Marchers carried the French flag to demonstrate their loyalty
They marched behind a banner which declared "Beloved France, respect our freedom".

Another insisted that Muslims were devoted citizens of the republic, but were also free citizens of a democracy.

As though to demonstrate their loyalty, many carried the red white and blue tricolour, the national flag of the French republic.

It was in defence of secularism - a core value of that republic - that President Chirac announced on Wednesday that the wearing of overt symbols of religious allegiance would be banned from state schools from the start of the next academic year.

These include the Islamic headscarf, the Jewish skullcap and crucifixes of excessive size.

Muslims divided

Polls showed two-thirds of French people support the ban, as do many schoolteachers.

Opinion in the Muslim community is divided.

One survey suggested that as many as 50% of Muslim women here also support the ban.

But some Muslim leaders insist that, although the ban applies in theory to all religions, in practice it discriminates against the country's five million Muslims.

France has been convulsed by the debate.

Many believe the problem of how France's Islamic community can be integrated into the mainstream of French society is the most troubling and explosive fault-line of the day.

Muslims urge calm over scarf law
18 Dec 03  |  Europe

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