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4.23.2010 France prepares anti-burqa bill

By ABC News

The French government is drafting legislation to ban Muslim women from wearing full-face veils in public, even though it could be unconstitutional.

The new law, which will go before parliament next month, will prohibit women from wearing the eye-revealing niqab and the full veil known as the burqa in shops, markets and in public buildings.

The ban would also extend to the streets of France.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy calls the face veil an assault on women's dignity.

After a cabinet meeting overnight, a spokesman for the president said the government regarded the wearing of a full face veil as a rejection of French values.

Last month, the state council - France's top administrative authority - warned Mr Sarkozy that a full ban could be declared unconstitutional.

And it looks like Belgian lawmakers are expected to endorse Europe's first clampdown on full-face veils.

Belgium's federal home affairs committee voted unanimously on March 31 to endorse a nationwide ban on clothes or veils that do not allow the wearer to be fully identified, including the niqab and burqa.

The draft law is on the agenda for today.

Those who ignore it could face a fine of 15-25 euros ($22-$36) and/or a jail sentence of up to seven days, unless they have police permission to wear the garments.

Human Rights Watch has criticised the bill, saying it would confine women to their homes, rather than liberate them.