Spanish town to debate Islamic veil ban

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A Spanish town is to debate calls for a ban on wearing the full-face Islamic veil in public amid growing cross-party opposition to the burqa in the country, a local party said Tuesday.

The council debate in Lerida, a town of some 140,000 inhabitants in north east Catalonia, will take place on May 28.

The moderate Catalan nationalists of the Convergence and Union (CiU) party proposed the ban, calling the veil "an obstacle to the dignity and integration of women in our society".

About 20 percent of the town's residents are immigrants and the presence "of Salafist representatives (hardline Islamists) has facilitated the spread of practices incompatible with the values of sexual equality and respect for women," the party said in a statement.

Lerida mayor Angel Ros, who belongs to the Socialist Party which governs at the national level, backs a ban in order to protect women's "fundamental rights", a spokesman for the municipality said.

The town's legal department is studying the possibility of banning the use of the veil at the local level but the mayor would prefer a wider ban at the regional or national level, he added.

Spain's Labour and Immigration Minister Celestino Corbacho said Monday he was in favour of a ban on the full veil in work places.

"Totally covering women with a piece of clothing, whatever the symbolism, completely goes against our society and stops the move towards equality between men and women," he said.

Traditionally a nation that sent immigrants abroad, Spain has seen the number of foreigners living within its borders take off since 1996.

At the start of 2010 there were 5.7 million foreigners in Spain, which has a total population of 46.9 million, according to the National Institute of Statistics.

This includes 746,760 Moroccans, an increase of 4.0 percent on 2009.

France and Belgium are among a number of European countries currently debating a full-face Islamic veil ban in public places.

© 2010 AFP

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