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Page last updated at 13:02 GMT, Thursday, 22 April 2010 14:02 UK

Belgium veil ban debate in doubt amid political crisis

Woman wearing niqab, file pic
Under the new law, women in Belgium could be jailed for wearing such veils

A Belgian debate on whether to ban the wearing of the full-face Islamic veil in public has been thrown into doubt by political turmoil.

Belgian lawmakers were due to debate the legislation when a Dutch-speaking party pulled out of the government and the prime minister offered to resign.

Belgium had been on track to become the first European country to ban the burka or niqab in public places.

Critics say a ban violates the rights of those who choose to wear such veils.

It was not immediately clear whether parliamentary sessions planned for Thursday afternoon would go ahead after Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme handed his resignation to the king.

The king was said to be considering whether to accept.

'Good communication'

The Belgian vote was scheduled a day after France detailed its own plans to ban full veils.

The legislation in Belgium does not specifically mention veils, the BBC's Dominic Hughes in Brussels says.

Everyone should be free to express themselves the way they want according to their conviction and religion
Selma

Instead, it says the ban applies to clothing that hides someone's identity in public places such as parks, buildings and on the street.

Anyone who ignores the ban would face a fine of 15-25 euros (£13-£21; $20-34) and/or a jail sentence of up to seven days, unless they have police permission to wear such garments.

Supporters of the bill - which has cross-party support - say it is necessary as a security measure, to allow police to correctly identify people.

Stefaan van Heck, an MP with the Belgian Green Party, said it was also important for social integration.

"If you want good integration and good communication between all the many different communities we have in Brussels, it's important that we see each other when we can speak to each other," he told the BBC.

Headscarves

The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves come in a myriad of styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.
The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf. The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through.
The al-amira is a two-piece veil. It consists of a close fitting cap, usually made from cotton or polyester, and an accompanying tube-like scarf. The shayla is a long, rectangular scarf popular in the Gulf region. It is wrapped around the head and tucked or pinned in place at the shoulders.
The khimar is a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist. It covers the hair, neck and shoulders completely, but leaves the face clear. The chador, worn by many Iranian women when outside the house, is a full-body cloak. It is often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath.
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There are probably just 30 women who wear full-face veils, out of a Muslim population of around half a million, our correspondent says.

The Muslim Executive of Belgium has warned it would lead to women who do wear the veil being trapped in their homes.

Selma, a Belgian woman who wears the niqab, said it was her personal choice to the wear the garment.

"Everyone should be free to express themselves the way they want according to their conviction and religion," she told the BBC.

French debate

On Wednesday French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a cabinet meeting that the government should submit a bill to parliament on a ban on veils "in all public places", government spokesman Luc Chatel said.

Mr Sarkozy said the full veils "do not pose a problem in a religious sense, but threaten the dignity of women", Mr Chatel was quoted as saying by Associated Press news agency.

Last year, the French president said such veils oppressed women and were not welcome in France.

The proposal has provoked intense debate in France about religious freedom in a secular society, as well as the position of Muslims in France.

The country's highest administrative body, the State Council, has suggested such a law might be unconstitutional.



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SEE ALSO
Sarkozy orders bill banning veil
21 Apr 10 |  Europe
France advised against veil ban
30 Mar 10 |  Europe
France report backs face veil ban
26 Jan 10 |  Europe
The Islamic veil across Europe
15 Jun 10 |  Europe
Sarkozy says burka 'not welcome'
14 Jan 10 |  Europe
France sets up burka commission
23 Jun 09 |  Europe
France rejects veiled Muslim wife
12 Jul 08 |  Europe

FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Time France Moves Closer to Banning the Burqa - 5 hrs ago
Mail Online UK Belgium vote to ban burka is scuppered at last minute as government collapses - 12 hrs ago
UPI UPI NewsTrack TopNews - 12 hrs ago
NEWS.com.au Belgium in chaos as PM quits over burqa - 14 hrs ago
News24.com Belgium to ban full Islamic veil - 19 hrs ago


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