France's anti-burqa bill before parliament in July
France's National Assembly will begin debate in early July on a bill banning Muslim women from wearing the full Islamic veil, Prime Minister Francois Fillon told lawmakers on Tuesday.
A final draft of the legislation outlawing the face-covering veil from all public spaces as well as state institutions is to be approved by the cabinet on May 19, said aides to Fillon.
President Nicolas Sarkozy decided this month to opt for a total ban on the veil, known as the burqa or niqab, despite warnings from the State Council, a top administrative body, that the law could be struck down as unconstitutional.
The president has declared the burqa not welcome in France, calling it an affront to French values that denigrates women.
Lawmakers are set to adopt a formal resolution declaring France's strong opposition to the face-covering veil on May 11, setting the stage for debate on the new legislation.
Fillon told a meeting of lawmakers from the governing UMP party that the new bill would be presented during a special session in early July, officials told AFP.
Some lawmakers are pushing for fast-track approval of the bill, but speaker Bernard Accoyer said there may not be enough time during the two-week session to complete debate and that a final vote could come in the autumn.
Home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority, estimated at between five and six million, France has been debating a ban on the veil, with supporters arguing it is a sign of creeping fundamentalism that must not be allowed to take hold.
Opponents however accuse Sarkozy of pandering to the far-right with such moves and note figures showing that only 1,900 women wear the full veil in France.
The debate took a new twist last week when a veil-wearing woman from western France complained that she had been fined for driving while wearing the garment.
The woman -- who identified herself only by the pseudonym Anne when she spoke to journalists last week -- is refusing to pay the fine, while her husband, who runs a halal butcher shop in Nantes, has come under investigation over allegations of polygamy.
Lies Hebbadj has denied violating any law and said he has "mistresses" and not the four wives that media reports have claimed.
Presenting the government's timeline for the anti-burqa bill, Fillon urged lawmakers to show particular "attention to our citizens of the Muslim faith" to ensure they do not feel stigmatised.
© 2010 AFP