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Italian city to fine Muslim women in burkinis

Mayor says sight of "masked woman" is disturbing

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The anti-immigration mayor of a northern Italian city has barred Muslim women from wearing the body-concealing swimsuit known as a burkini and has threatened to fine them if spotted on the beach or at swimming pools, a report said Wednesday.

Women wearing the garment made up of a veil, a tunic and loose leggings face a fine of €500 ($700) if spotted at swimming pools or riversides in the northern Piedmont town of Varallo Sesia, the ANSA news agency reported.

"The sight of a 'masked woman' could disturb small children, not to mention problems of hygiene," Mayor Gianluca Buonanno was quoted as saying.

"We don't have to be tolerant all the time," he said.

Justifying the move, Buonanno added: "Imagine a Western woman bathing in a bikini in a Muslim country. The consequences could be decapitation, prison or deportation. We are merely prohibiting the use of the burkini."

Last week a swimming pool in Paris refused entry to a burkini-clad woman on similar grounds, adding to tensions over Muslim dress in France.

The incident came as French lawmakers conducted hearings on whether to ban the burqa, which is not obligatory in Islam, after President Nicolas Sarkozy said the head-to-toe body covering and veil was "not welcome" in France, home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority.

Buonanno belongs to Italy's Northern League, a party allied with the centre-right People of Freedom led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The sight of a masked woman could disturb small children, not to mention problems of hygiene

Mayor Gianluca Buonanno