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Last Updated: Friday, 13 February, 2004, 13:28 GMT
France raises Sikh turban hopes
Sikhs demonstrate in Delhi
Sikhs say the turban is a way of life
The French Government says it will find a "solution" for Sikhs who are angry at a proposed ban on turbans and other religious symbols in state schools.

Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin made his remarks in India, where he has faced opposition over the issue.

"I am sure we are going to find a solution that will be satisfactory for the Sikh community in France," he said after talks in Delhi.

But he said any solution would be within the constraints of the new law.

Several dozen Sikhs and Muslims held protests in the Indian capital ahead of Mr De Villepin's talks with his Indian counterpart, Yashwant Sinha, at which the new law was discussed.

Turban 'way of life'

The French foreign minister said France's commitment to human rights and democracy had led to the decision to ban religious symbols in state schools.

He was at pains to stress that the law was not intended to target any religious group.

As a Sikh, I would be outraged if a ban were made on Sikhs to prevent them wearing a turban in school
Kiran Kasbia, Bristol, UK

But he gave no details of how his government might find a compromise within the new law for the tiny, 6,000-strong Sikh community in France.

Nor did he say whether "solutions" could be found for the many other religions whose members are up in arms at the proposed ban.

Mr De Villepin later told Tarlochan Singh, head of India's National Commission for Minorities and himself a Sikh, that France would seek "practical solutions" to the problem, a French official said.

Sikhs say the turban is not a religious symbol but an integral part of the Sikh way of life.

The turbans are used to contain the long hair of Sikhs, which their religion prohibits them from cutting.

They complain that the ban will force them to do so and is tantamount to forcing them to give up their religion.

'Accidental victims'

On Wednesday a Sikh delegation met the French ambassador in Delhi and presented him with a petition asking for the government to reverse its decision to pass the law.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin
Mr De Villepin said Sikhs were respected in France
The petition included 100,000 signatures from Sikhs worldwide.

MPs in France's lower house passed the controversial bill this week.

The legislation is not expected to face difficulty clearing the upper chamber, and should be in force for the new academic year in September.

Sikhs in France complain they are accidental victims of legislation intended to curb the wearing of headscarves by Muslim schoolgirls.

They say the proposed law was drawn up without officials realising its potential impact on their community in France, which has five million Muslims.

The wearing of Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crucifixes will also be affected.

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