France: First fine issued for wearing full-face veil

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A woman has been stopped and ordered to pay a fine for wearing a full-face veil in a shopping centre in Paris, the first reported sanction under a new ban on the garments.

The 27-year-old was stopped by police in a shopping-centre car park in the suburb of Mureaux, regional police said. She was handed a ticket that requires her to pay a €150 (£134) fine or register for citizenship classes within a month. Police said the exchange was brief and calm.

The incident occurred on Monday, when France's ban on veils such as the niqab and burka came into effect. Though such veils are rare in France, many of the country's five million Muslims see the ban as a stigma. President Nicolas Sarkozy says such veils imprison women and wanted a ban to uphold French values of equality and secularism.

Another woman was stopped yesterday for wearing a veil in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. The 35-year-old was brought to the police station and reminded of the law, police said.

While these were the first publicly reported incidents, it was unclear how many women have been stopped so far nationwide. The French government has estimated that only about 2,000 women in France wear such veils, and a few vocal wearers have said they will defy the ban.

Moderate Muslim leaders in France and elsewhere agree that Islam does not require women to cover their faces, but many are uncomfortable with banning the veil.