Spanish town bans Islamic veil in municipal buildings
Spain's northeastern town of Lerida on Friday became the first in the country to ban the wearing of the face-covering Islamic veil in municipal buildings.
The town council voted to prohibit the "use of the veil and other clothes and accessories which cover the face and prevent identification in buildings and installations of the town hall."
The vote, by 23 to one with two abstentions, is the first of its kind in Spain, a country where Islamic veils and the body-covering burqas are little in evidence despite a large Muslim population.
The move is aimed at promoting "respect for the dignity of women and values of equality and tolerance," the town hall said in a statement.
The Islamic veil has sparked intense debate in many European countries, with Belgian deputies last month backing a draft law banning the garment in all public places, including on the streets, in a first for Europe.
France's cabinet has also approved a draft law to ban the full-face veil from public spaces, opening the way for the text to go before parliament in July.
The issue is a relatively new one for Spain, an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country which has seen the number of immigrants living within its borders soar from around half a million in 1996 to 5.6 million last year, out of a total population of 46 million people.
Moroccans make up one of the largest immigrant communities.
© 2010 AFP