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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March, 2004, 22:29 GMT
French Senate backs headscarf ban
Muslim girl under the word
There are fears the law may bring about segregation
The upper house of the French parliament has approved a bill banning Islamic headscarves and other religious symbols in state schools.

The proposal was approved with 276 votes in favour and 20 against.

President Jacques Chirac has 15 days to sign into law the bill - passed by the lower house last month.

Most of France's political parties, and around 70% of the population, support the ban which some Muslim leaders say risks being perceived as intolerant.

Quick signal

Jewish skullcaps, large Christian crosses and probably Sikh turbans are also expected to be banned when the new law comes into effect in September.

Everybody has the right to express his faith as long as he respects the laws of the Republic inside the Republic's schools
Jean-Pierre Raffarin
French Prime Minister

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told senators before the vote that the law did not aim to discriminate against religions but to "send a powerful and quick signal".

"Our vision of secularity is not opposed to religions. Everybody has the right to express his faith as long as he respects the laws of the Republic inside the Republic's schools," Mr Raffarin said.

But he added: "We do not feel or claim to believe that all's been settled with this bill."

Some French MPs, backed by Muslim leaders and rights groups, have warned that the new law could be seen as intolerant and undermine the integration of France's Muslims.

They say young Muslim women are being forced to wear the headscarf, though the few hundred who have turned out for demonstrations against the new law say they wear it of their own free will.

Many governments and human rights groups have criticised the bill - including the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the US-based advisory group, the Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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