French entrepreneur offers to pay veil fines

PARIS Mon Jul 12, 2010 5:36pm IST

A woman wears a burqa as she walks on a street in Saint-Denis, near Paris, April 2, 2010. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Files

A woman wears a burqa as she walks on a street in Saint-Denis, near Paris, April 2, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Regis Duvignau/Files

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PARIS (Reuters) - A French businessman is offering to sell properties to help Muslim women pay any fines that they may receive for wearing the full veil in public if a law is voted through France's parliament.

Lawmakers will vote on the bill on Tuesday, which would see women fined 150 euros if they wear the full veil, known as the burqa or nihab, in public places.

In a statement published in several newspapers, Rachid Nekkaz, who tried to stand in the presidential elections in 2007, said he would use proceeds from property sales for a 1 million euro ($1.26 million) fund to help women pay any fines.

France, home to the Europe's largest Muslim minority with about 5 million Muslims, is the second country after Belgium to want to ban the veil on its own soil.

Nekkaz is setting up an association, 'Hands off my Constitution', which he said viewed banning the veil in the street as unconstitutional.

Critics also see the bill as difficult to enforce and say only a tiny minority of Muslim women wear the full veil, and that the legislation is a step towards tighter restraints on individual freedom.

Supporters of the ban argue that wearing garments which hide women's faces violates the ideals of secularism and equality.

The country already bans Muslim headscarves and other religious symbols from schools and voters have indicated support for a ban of the full veil.

The government is expecting broad support for the bill after opposition Socialists said they would not hinder its adoption. (Editing by John Irish; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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