BANGKOK, Feb 13 (AFP) – Some 60 Thai Muslims including veiled women demonstrated outside the French embassy Friday over the government’s decision to ban Islamic headscarves.
Witnesses said the protesters, including up to 20 women wearing the traditional veil, chanted slogans and waved banners printed in English, Thai and the Yawi dialect spoken in Thailand’s Muslim-majority south.
The banners read “Down with France”, “Dare you Challenge God” and “Chirac – chief violator of human rights”, referring to French president Jacques Chirac.
Many of the demonstrators came to the embassy from Friday prayers at a nearby mosque in the Thai capital.
They submitted a letter protesting the new law to embassy officials before dispersing peacefully after about an hour.
In the letter, they accused the French government of contravening basic human rights, ignoring the principles of Islam, and introducing a measure which would result in Muslim girls dropping out of schools.
They also called on Muslims to unite to fight for their rights, warning that other European nations were likely to implement similar laws.
The majority of Thailand’s 62 million people are Buddhist, but five percent of the population is Muslim, mostly living in the five southern provinces bordering Malaysia.
Opponents of the ban, which has also triggered demonstrations in Indonesia and Malaysia, argue that wearing a headscarf is a religious obligation and not merely a cultural expression.
The issue has become the focus of heated arguments over how best to integrate France’s Muslim minority, with “secularists” fearful that the Islamic garb is an outward sign of a refusal to assimilate fully into French society.
Chirac said Wednesday he would support a recommendation from an advisory committee to introduce the legislation in the interest of protecting France’s secular principles and reducing religious divisions.
Subject: France news