French woman who flouts veil ban seeks presidency

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The Independent Online

A Frenchwoman who wears an Islamic face veil despite a nationwide ban, has declared she will run for the French presidency.

The declaration by Kenza Drider came as a French court fined two women who refuse to remove their veils.

All three are among a group of women mounting an attack on the law that has banned the garments from the streets of France since April, and prompted similar moves in other European countries.

They are bent on proving that the ban contravenes fundamental rights and that women who hide their faces stand for freedom, not submission.

"When a woman wants to maintain her freedom, she must be bold," Ms Drider said.

President Nicolas Sarkozy says the veil imprisons women. Polls show that most French people support the ban, which authorities estimate affects fewer than 2,000 women who wore the veil before the ban.

Ms Drider declared her candidacy in Meaux, the city east of Paris run by top conservative lawmaker and Sarkozy ally Jean-Francois Cope, who championed the ban.

"I have the ambition today to serve all women who are the object of stigmatisation or social, economic or political discrimination," she said.

Two other women arrested for wearing veils in Meaux - while trying to deliver a birthday cake to Cope - were fined in court today, one €120 (£105), the other €80 (£70).

They want to push their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

"We cannot accept that women be punished because they are openly practising their religious convictions. We are demanding the application of European rights," said one of those convicted, Hind Ahmas.

With Islam the second religion in France and numbers of faithful growing, there are worries that veiled Muslim women could compromise the nation's secular foundations and undermine gender equality and women's dignity.

There are also concerns that practices like wearing full veils could open the door to a radical form of Islam. Lawmakers banned Muslim headscarves in classrooms in 2004.

Few Muslim women in France cover their faces. Most who veil themselves wear the "niqab," a filmy cloth attached to the headscarf that covers all but the eyes. The law also affects the burqa, with just a mesh covering over the eyes, worn largely in Afghanistan.

Belgium passed a similar face veil ban that took effect in July, and the Netherlands has drawn up legislation to outlaw Muslim face veils. A draft law has been approved in Italy.