Most French want burqa law, but not total ban

Sat Apr 24, 2010 10:55am GMT

PARIS (Reuters) - Two-thirds of French people want a law limiting the use of face-covering Islamic veils such as the niqab and the burqa, with only a minority backing the government's plan for a complete ban, a poll showed Saturday.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's government is expected to present a bill in May on banning full veils from the public sphere, against the advice of legal experts who recommend a milder rule focussing on state institutions.

Sarkozy has personally defended a strict ban, arguing that the veil hurts gender equality and demeans women.

The TNS Sofres/Logica poll, which was carried out on Thursday and Friday, showed that 33 percent of French people want a complete ban, while a further 31 percent want a more narrow law applying only to certain public spaces.

The results of the survey of 950 people were roughly the same for men and women. Support for some kind of legal restriction on the full veil cut across age groups, professions and political affiliation, though it was stronger among right-wing voters -- more than 80 percent of them favoured a law.

By opting for a complete ban, Sarkozy is taking a constitutional gamble since the practice of veiling oneself can be defended on the grounds of religious freedom.

A narrower law asking women to bare their faces in town halls or when they pick up their children from school would have been less legally risky, since it could have been justified as a security measure rather than a question of values.

(Reporting by Sophie Hardach; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

<p>Anne, an assumed name, a 31-year old French woman who has been fined for wearing a niqab while driving, speaks during a news conference in Nantes, western France, April 23, 2010. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe</p>
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