De Villepin faces veil on Al-Jazeera

16th January 2004, Comments 0 comments

DUBAI, Jan 15 (AFP) - Qatar's Al-Jazeera satellite TV did not mean to defy France by choosing its only veiled presenter to interview French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, editor Ibrahim Hilal said Thursday.

DUBAI, Jan 15 (AFP) - Qatar's Al-Jazeera satellite TV did not mean to defy France by choosing its only veiled presenter to interview French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, editor Ibrahim Hilal said Thursday.

On the contrary, Hilal told AFP by telephone from Doha, the choice has given France "the opportunity to show that it deals with the hijab with respect" despite its proposed ban on the Islamic headscarf in state schools.

Al-Jazeera on Thursday advertised the interview with de Villepin, who was in Qatar earlier this week as part of a Gulf tour, showing Khadija Ben Guenna, the only one of several woman news anchors to cover her head, interviewing the French chief diplomat.

The interview was scheduled to be aired at 1730 GMT Friday.

Hilal said he arranged the interview with the French embassy in Doha, which was initially taken aback by the choice of interviewer, but eventually agreed that Ben Guenna was the most qualified of Al-Jazeera's journalists to conduct the interview and that the move could be beneficial for both sides.

Ben Guenna, a French-speaking Algerian, "is indeed the most qualified of our senior presenters to conduct the interview," Hilal said, insisting the choice was not a "political statement."

By accepting the choice, "you will show that you have no problem with the hijab, and we will show that we do not exclude our presenters just because they wear the hijab," he said he had told his French interlocutors.

De Villepin stressed during his Gulf tour that there would be no blanket ban on Islamic headscarves in France and that a planned law to prohibit them in state schools did not target Islam.

"There will be no across-the-board ban on headscarves in France," de Villepin told a news conference in Abu Dhabi Monday.

"The ban will be limited to schools and civil servants on duty," he said.French President Jacques Chirac called for the ban in December following months of fierce debate over whether to allow headscarves in state schools, which are secular.

The ban would also apply to other "conspicuous" religious insignia, such as the Jewish kippa, or skullcap, and large crosses.

The draft law, which the French parliament is likely to pass next month, has drawn protest across the Muslim world and in France, notably from some of the country's five million Muslims.


© AFP

                                Subject: France news

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