Spanish senate recommends ban on Islamic veils
Spain's upper house of parliament Wednesday approved a motion calling on Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's socialist government to ban the use of face-covering Islamic veils in public.
The motion was introduced by the main opposition conservative Popular Party and it calls for a ban on the niqab, which covers the face but leaves the eyes exposed, as well as the body-covering burka.
It was narrowly approved with the votes of 131 in favour and 129 against. There were no abstentions.
"Today, a very important step in favour of freedom and women's equality was taken," the deputy leader of the Popular Party, Maria Dolores de Cospedal, told reporters after the vote.
Last week Justice Minister Francisco Caamano said the government planned to restrict the use of face-covering Islamic veils in public places under a proposed new law on religious freedom.
"We believe that there are things like the burka which are hard to reconcile with human dignity and which especially pose problems of identification in public places," he told reporters.
In recent days several municipalities in the northeastern region of Catalonia, including Barcelona, have imposed bans on the use of face-covering Islamic veils in public or have announced plans to do so.
Immigration from Muslim countries has soared in Spain since the 1990s, with Catalonia in particular being home to a large community of Pakistani origin.
There are now about one million Muslims among Spain's population of 47 million.
Last month, lawmakers in Belgium approved a draft law to ban the wearing of the Muslim full-face veil in public places, including streets -- creating a controversial first for Europe, although it is still subject to a senate vote.
Debate is raging in France as well, where the cabinet has approved a draft law to ban the Muslim full-face veil from public spaces, opening the way for the text to go before parliament in July.
© 2010 AFP