Swim day for women in France sparks controversy

Mayor of Marseille intends to ban a planned swim-day for women at a local park next month

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The mayor of a French town near Marseille said on Thursday he intends to ban a planned swim-day for women at a local park next month, citing a risk to public order because swimmers will be required to cover up from chest to knee.

The association "Smile 13" organized the event for women, girls, and boys under 10, for 10 September.

Swimmers have been asked to respect the Islamic notion of "awra," a reference to parts of the body to be hidden - causing concern among some in secular France.

Dominique Bucci, deputy mayor of Les-Pennes-Mirabeau, a Mediterranean port city with a large Muslim population, said that the day would deny men and women equality and "trample" on the value of laicity.

On the beach in Marseille beaches, Nissrine Samali, a young Muslim teacher wearing a burkini, said she didn't understand wearing Islamic dress for water sports bothered anyone and said it would be better if people were more "open-minded about this subject".

Samali said for Muslims it is a type of modesty to wear a burkini.

France is a secular state and citizens try, sometimes zealously, to ensure secular values remain respected in an increasingly multicultural society.

Two laws, a ban on headscarves in classrooms in 2004 and on face veils in streets in 2010, aim to keep religious symbols out of public life.

Smile 13, which describes itself as a "socio-cultural, sports and aid" group for women and children, could not be reached immediately for comment.