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France bans full-face veil in public spaces

1,200 full-veil Syrian teachers lose their jobs

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Through a crushing majority, the French lower house of parliament voted on Tuesday a law approving the ban of Muslim women from wearing a full-face veil in public spaces

The bill will now go to the Senate in September, but opponents of the ban in its proposed form worry that it will eventually be overturned by the judges of the Constitutional Council, France's highest legal body.

For, while President Nicolas Sarkozy's determination to ban the niqab and the burqa won enough political support to carry it, opponents argue that it breaches French and European human rights legislation.

The bill defines public space very broadly, including not just government buildings and public transport, but all streets, markets and thoroughfares, private businesses and entertainment venues.

Similar laws are pending in Belgium, Spain and some Italian municipalities, but the ban is particularly sensitive in France, whose rundown city suburbs are home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority.

Last week, Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told lawmakers debating the bill that its adoption would assert French values and help to better integrate Muslim communities into the national way of life.

She said being forced to wear the niqab or the burqa "amounts to being cut off from society and rejecting the very spirit of the French republic that is founded on a desire to live together."

"At a time where our societies are becoming more global and complex, the French people are pondering the future of their nation. Our responsibility is to show vigilance and reaffirm our commonly-shared values," she said.

Critics say the law exploits a non-problem -- only about 1,900 women among France's five to six million Muslims wear a veil -- in a bid to pander to anti-immigration voters and to distract attention from France's economic woes.

Most French Muslims come from France's former colonies in North and West Africa, where wearing the veil is rare, rather than from the Arabian peninsula or Pakistan where niqabs and burqas are a cultural tradition.

Fines of €150 ($190) will be imposed on those caught wearing the veil, after a six-month grace period to allow time to educate Muslim women about the ban.

Men who force their wives or daughters to cover themselves for religious reasons face stiffer penalties of up to €30,000 and a one-year jail term.

At a time where our societies are becoming more global and complex, the French people are pondering the future of their nation. Our responsibility is to show vigilance and reaffirm our commonly-shared values

Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie

Syrian teachers out of work

Meanwhile, about 1,200 women teachers have lost their jobs in Syria for wearing the full Islamic veil, a human rights group said on Tuesday.

"National Education Minister Ali Saad last month ordered the transfer of 1,200 teachers who wear the niqab (full veil) from the education ministry to the local administration ministry," said the president of the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights.

Abdel-Karim Rihawi told AFP the move did not affect the wearing of headscarves, which is common among women in Syria.

"No article of the labour code bans women from being entirely veiled at the workplace," said Rihawi. Wearing the niqab was a right "guaranteed by international treaties on human rights and by the Syrian constitution."

Rihawi, who said he himself is not a supporter of the niqab, said the ban was imposed after complaints from some parents.

Amid controversy in Europe on the niqab, French lawmakers on Tuesday .