France expects criticism over burqa ban
Paris - Governments worldwide would probably point a disapproving finger at France for banning the full Islamic veil, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Sunday.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's government is drafting a bill that would make it illegal to wear the face-covering veil, making France the second European country after Belgium to move towards a ban of the garment, known as the burqa.
"There will of course be European countries that will protest," Kouchner told Europe 1 radio, citing Denmark and the Netherlands who see the ban as an infringement on religious freedoms.
"The United States are keen to defend religious freedom and there will be many NGOs and foundations that will want to show that we are mistaken," he added.
Kouchner also singled out Pakistan and Turkey as countries "where we will be criticised" and noted that Saudi Arabia would seize on the legislation to justify its repressive laws against women.
"Saudi Arabia will say "fine, you have the right to do what you want in your country and I also have the right to do what I want, for example, not allow women to drive", Kouchner said.
The minister, who earned a reputation as a humanitarian and outspoken rights defender before he joined Sarkozy's government in 2007, said he had raised all of these "obstacles" during a recent cabinet meeting.
Sarkozy decided last month to forge ahead with a total ban on the burqa despite warnings from the State Council, the top administrative body, that the law could be struck down as unconstitutional.
Kouchner argued that banning the burqa was not a matter of religious freedom, but of women's rights.
"I am in favour of supporting a woman's right to dignity," said the foreign minister, adding that women should not be "locked up" by wearing the head-to-toe veil.
The government is set to approve a draft bill on May 19 that would then go to parliament in July. - AFP