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French legislators worried about rise of burqa use
PARIS (Reuters) - French legislators said on Wednesday that more and more Muslim women in France were wearing full burqas that cover them from head to toe and hide their faces, and expressed concern about the trend.
Close to 60 legislators signed a proposal calling for a parliamentary commission to look into the spread of the burqa, a garment that they said amounted "to a breach of individual freedoms on our national territory."
France, home to Europe's largest Muslim minority, is strongly attached to its secular values and to gender equality, and many see the burqa as an infringement of women's rights which is increasingly being imposed on women by fundamentalists.
The country has been divided by fierce debates about how best to reconcile those principles with religious freedom.
"There are people in this country who are walking around in portable prisons," said Andre Gerin, a Communist legislator who was behind the initiative on burqas. More than 40 legislators from the centre-right ruling party were also signatories.
"We have to be able to open a loyal and frank dialogue with all Muslims about the question of the place of Islam in this country ... taking into account the slide towards fundamentalism (of some Muslims)," Gerin told France Info radio.
He said a growing number of Muslim women in France, not only in big cities but also in rural areas, were wearing burqas. The deputies did not say how many more women were wearing burqas, though anecdotal evidence suggests there has been a rise.
The legislators' proposal echoed a controversy that raged for a decade in France about Muslim girls wearing headscarves in class. Eventually, a law was passed in 2004 banning pupils from wearing conspicuous signs of their religion at state schools.
Critics say the law stigmatised Muslims at a time when the country should be fighting discrimination in the job and housing markets that has caused a rift between mainstream society and many youths from an immigrant background.
Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris Grand Mosque, spoke out against the use of burqas Wednesday.
"Islam in France should be an open, liberal, convivial Islam that allows people to live side by side," he told France Info.
Boubakeur, a former head of France's government-approved Muslim council, said the increasing use of burqas in France was linked to "an excess, a radicalisation" among some Muslims.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Jon Boyle)
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