French politicians pave way for hijab ban

French political parties have struck an accord which paves the way for Muslim headscarves and other religious insignia to be banned in state schools.

    The hijab is a religious obligation for Muslim women

    The country's ruling conservatives and left-wing

    opposition approved the deal

     over a controversial

    draft law on Thursday before

     a formal vote by the National Assembly next week

    .

    The Socialists said their backing depended on an

    amendment requiring the law to be reviewed after a year.

    Their support also hinged on the

    understanding that the law would

     not be wielded in a way that would

    alienate religious communities.

    Secularism

    The head of the Socialists in parliament, Jean-Marc Ayrault,

    said a law upholding France's principle of secularism should be "a

    law of national harmony, of republican harmony, and not a law that

    will divide".

    The amendments were seen as a way to bring those hesitating on

    board to back the bill, which goes to the vote in the lower chamber

    of parliament next Tuesday. It will then be passed to the upper

    chamber, the Senate.

    Chirac says the law will uphold
    French secularism 

    A Socialist lawmaker, Rene Dosiere, said the deal with Chirac's

    ruling Union for a Popular Majority meant "the text will be improved

    enough so that the Socialist group can vote for it".

    Protests

    French public opinion backs the idea of a ban on conspicuous

    religious insignia in state schools, as does President Jacques

    Chirac and some key ministers

    .

    The bill, approved by the government a week ago, says that in

    state schools "the wearing of signs or clothes which conspicuously

    display a pupil's religious affiliation is prohibited".

    It would

    apply also to Jewish skullcaps, large Christian crosses and the Sikh

    turban.

    But others are reluctant to legislate on the matter, especially

    after protests by many of France's estimated five million Muslims,

    and by members of the 6000-strong Sikh community.

    SOURCE: AFP


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