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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 January, 2004, 14:56 GMT
French cabinet backs scarf ban
Girl wearing headscarf in Toulouse
The proposals have sparked protests across France
The French cabinet has approved a law banning Islamic headscarves and other religious symbols in state schools.

The move comes before a parliamentary debate starting on Tuesday, which is expected to end in the law's approval.

The bill follows an official report on state secularism which was backed by President Jacques Chirac.

Large crucifixes, Jewish skullcaps and other signs of faith - probably including Sikh turbans - will also be banned if the proposals become law.

The bill proposes that "in schools, junior high schools and high schools, signs and dress that conspicuously show the religious affiliation of students are forbidden."

Protests

Mr Chirac told the closed cabinet meeting that France needed to act to head off danger to the nation's secular foundations.

We have just given the Islamists and the militant fundamentalists a massive gift of gold
Francois Bayrou,
Union for French Democracy
"To do nothing would be irresponsible. It would be a fault," he said, according to government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope.

Not acting would mean "leaving teachers and school principals alone in the face of growing difficulties", he added.

The bill has its first reading before the National Assembly, parliament's lower house, on Tuesday.

The proposals have led to protests by Muslim groups in France and around the world.

Many of France's five million Muslims see it as an attack on their religious and human rights.

'Misguided'

But Mr Chirac's stand reflects popular opinion in France where some 70% of the electorate have said they back a ban on religious symbols in schools.

French opposition Socialists have described the proposals as misguided and unclear.

Former education minister Francois Bayrou, of the Union for French Democracy (UDF) - the coalition partner of Mr Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) - said he would oppose the law because "the disadvantages outweigh the advantages".

"We have just given the Islamists and the militant fundamentalists a massive gift of gold," he said on RTL radio.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"President Chirac said the bill was not intended to ban religious symbols from everyday life"



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