Belgium passes ban on burka

Preceding Sarkozy’s government, lawmakers in Belgium voted almost unanimously to ban public wearing of full face veils on Friday.

The proposal received 134 votes in the lower house of federal parliament with two abstentions and nobody opposing. Under the new rule, any clothing that fully obscures the face will be prohibited in public areas such as parks; anyone who ignores it will be fined $20 to $35 and/or a jail sentence of up to a week. Exceptions could be made during certain festivals, or if the wearer has police permission to use the veil.

The proposal will now go to the Belgian Senate, where it is expected not to be blocked; some reports suggest it could become full law in June or July.

“It’s not about introducing any form of discrimination,” commented Daniel Bacquelaine, head of the liberal MR party in the parliament. He said that veils were “aimed at stopping people from being identified”.

Before the lower house voted, the vice-president of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, Isabelle Praile, opposed the proposal, saying: “Today it’s the full-face veil, tomorrow the veil, the day after it will be Sikh turbans and then perhaps it will be mini skirts. The wearing of a full-face veil is part of the individual freedoms.”

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