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Dutch government backs burqa ban
Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2006, 17:05 GMT (BBC)
The Dutch cabinet has backed a proposal by the country's immigration minister to ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa in public places.
The burqa, a full body covering that also obscures the face, would be banned by law in the street, and in trains, schools, buses and the law courts.
The cabinet said burqas disturb public order, citizens and safety.
The decision comes days ahead of elections which the ruling centre-right coalition is expected to win.
Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk is known for her tough policies, and has clashed with past coalition partners.
Late last year she said the government would look into a ban after a majority in the Dutch parliament said they were in favour.
But MPs are facing re-election next week and any shift to the left could undermine the proposal.
Civil rights debate
After lying dormant for much of the year, the prospect of a ban seems more likely after a report by an expert committee judged that it would not contravene Dutch law.
Other forms of face coverings, such as helmets with visors that obscure the face, would also be covered by a legal ban.
An estimated 5% of people living in the Netherlands are Muslims.
But there are just a few dozen women in the Netherlands who choose to wear the burqa, a traditional Islamic form of dress.
Critics of the proposed ban say it would violate civil rights.
The main Muslim organisation in the Netherlands, CMO, said the plan was an "over-reaction to a very marginal problem", the Associated Press reported.
But Ms Verdonk insisted the burqa was not an acceptable part of public life in the Netherlands.
"The Cabinet finds it undesirable that face-covering clothing - including the burqa - is worn in public places for reasons of public order, security and protection of citizens," she said.
The country's relationship with its Islamic community has been under scrutiny since the murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh by Islamic extremists in November 2004.
The decision by the centre-right government comes days ahead of an election in which questions of immigration and nationality are likely to play a key role.
Earlier this year Ms Verdonk clashed with a minority party in the governing coalition over her handling of the citizenship case of Somali-born Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
The MP scripted a controversial film about the treatment of women in Islamic society, directed by van Gogh before he was killed.
But she admitted lying on her 1992 application for Dutch citizenship, and Ms Verdonk initially called for the MP to be deported.