Spain planning burqa ban: government

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Spain's government plans to ban the use of the Islamic burqa in public places under a proposed new law on religious freedom, the justice minister said Tuesday.

"We believe that there are things like the burqa which are hard to reconcile with human dignity and which especially pose problems of identification in public places," Francisco Caamano told reporters.

The burqa is a body-covering Islamic garment worn by women.

The new law "will have to include measures on these symbols which impede identification in public places" for reasons of "security", Caamano said.

The Socialist government announced in 2008 it was preparing a "religious freedom" law which would ensure respect for religious pluralism, in a country which is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.

The law would also ban the display of crucifixes in schools, the newspaper El Pais said Sunday.

His remarks came a day after the mayor of Barcelona, Jordi Hereu, announced it would be the first large city in Spain to ban the use of the full-face Islamic veil in public buildings.

Two other towns in the northeastern region of Catalonia, Lerida and El Venrell, have recently imposed bans on the use of the Islamic veil in public buildings.

Two more, Tarragona and Gerona, are considering similar measures, as is Coin in the southern region of Andalucia.

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

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