Plans by a water park in the southern French city of Marseille to hold a pool day for Muslim women who wear full-body swimsuits, known as burkinis, has sparked debate and anger in the country.

The event, set to be held on September 17, is being organised by a women's association, Smile13, based in the port city, where about 220,000 Muslims reside.

Politicians and residents on opposite ends of the political spectrum have come out on Twitter and elsewhere to respond to the event, with some dubbing the pool day an attempt by the Muslim community to segregate themselves, while others called such criticism Islamophobic. 

Florian Philippot, an adviser to the far-right leader of the National Front party, Marine Le Pen, said the pool day smacked of "dyed-in-the-wool communalism". 

"This sort of event should be banned," Philippot said, warning of a "risk of public disorder".

Senator Michel Amiel, mayor of the northern suburb of the city, Les Pennes Mirabeau, where Speedwater park is located, also said he is seeking a ban.

The calls were echoed by the mayor of the port city, Jean-Claude Gaudin, who said on Twitter he "has always been opposed to communitarianism". 

"In this context, we must fight against any division within our society". 


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Valerie Boyer, of the right-wing Republicans party, said: "These practices represent an attack against our values. They have no place in our country."

In response to criticism of the event, French socialist senator Samia Ghali, who is of Algerian descent, commented on Twitter that the matter was "an unnecessary controversy that feeds into the confusion over the real challenges of our battle. 

"Intolerance should not change camps," she added. 

Another politician, Patrick Mennucci, said: "Swimming while covered - is it against the law? No. Privatising a place is authorised. This is anti-Muslim controversy."

On the Facebook page for the event, the organisers ask women who plan to attend to not wear bikinis, and to cover the area between their chests and knees at the minimum.

There will be a male lifeguard on duty, the organisers said. Other males above the age of 10 will not be allowed to attend.

Islam in France has been a hot-button issue that has intensified since the country witnessed multiple attacks, claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group. 

France banned the wearing of face-covering veils in public in 2011, becoming the first European country to do so. The government said wearing the veil was a symbol of male oppression.

The country's five-million-strong Muslim minority is Western Europe's largest, but fewer than 2,000 women are believed to wear a face veil.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies