Belgium votes to ban wearing of burqa in public

Belgium votes to ban wearing of burqa in public

However, the law criminalising Muslim women who hide their faces in public is unlikely to enter into force soon, as it still has to be approved by the upper house of parliament, the Senate.

Progress of the bill would also be wiped out if the political crisis gripping the country would lead to parliament being dissolved - an inevitable option, according to all political commentators.

Prime Minister Yves Leterme's resignation over a linguistic squabble between the French and Dutch speaking parts of the country was accepted Monday, and new elections are likely to be called either June 6 or 13.
After the vote, the Greens said they would try to stop the bill in the Senate, by submitting a motion asking for Belgian's highest administrative court, the Conseil d'Etat, to rule on the constitutionality of the burqa ban.

A similar attempt was stilted in the chamber of deputies, as all other parties rejected it.
Belgium has come the furthest amongst EU countries in its attempts to ban burqas, full-length garments which obscure a woman's face completely, as well as hiqabs, which are face veils, usually black, that expose only a woman's eyes, covering everything else.
According to critics, both are symbols of female submission, while opponents of a ban stress that they are a religious symbol, and should be respected as such.

The draft law approved by the Belgian chamber of deputies states that anyone caught "in public places with their face completely or partly covered or masked, so that they are no longer identifiable", should be punished with a 15 to 25 euros fine ($20 to $34) and/or serve from one to seven days in prison.

The bill would also allow local authorities to slap offenders with administrative fines of up to 250 euros, in case they are let off by the criminal justice system.
Exceptions are to be made for policemen, firemen and motorcyclists wearing helmets, as well as for people taking part in public events authorised by the police.
All parties voted in favour of the measure except the SP.A, the socialist grouping from the Dutch-speaking part of the country, which abstained.

RIA Novosti adds: A total of 134 lawmakers voted Thursday in favour of the ban. Two members abstained but no one voted against.
Under the new law, women are prohibited from wearing full-face Islamic garments, such as 'burqa' or 'niqab' on streets, parks, sports grounds and buildings "meant for public use or to provide services".

The ban was imposed on the grounds that the wearer is not fully identifiable and therefore could be a threat to public security.
Municipalities in several cities in Belgium have already introduced a similar ban.
France and Austria are also considering a similar ban on burqa.

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