Muslim girls flout French ban on headscarves

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The Independent Online

The French Education Minister, Francois Fillon, said yesterday that up to 120 Muslim girls were still disobeying the government's ban on wearing headscarves in state schools since the new school year started last week.

The French Education Minister, Francois Fillon, said yesterday that up to 120 Muslim girls were still disobeying the government's ban on wearing headscarves in state schools since the new school year started last week.

He said, however, that he was confident of reducing the number challenging the ban. "Today there are still about 100 or 120. I think we will be able to convince almost all of these young girls," M. Fillon told Europe-1 radio.

He said that the law, which forbids conspicuous religious symbols, in line with France's principle of keeping its state schools secular, called for a period of dialogue for those who failed to comply. If students did not agree to follow the new law during the discussions, which could last several weeks, measures could be taken to expel them.

The law, which also bans Jewish skull caps and large Christian crosses, has angered many in France's community of five million Muslims, as well as the 5,000 to 7,000 Sikhs, who were hardly consulted when the ban was established during the summer vacation. Sikhs are forbidden from wearing their turbans in class and have been barred from classes since the school year restarted.

But most pupils have obeyed the edict, causing the French President Jacques Chirac to praise their "spirit of responsibility and respect".

In eastern France, one 12-year-old girl barred from two public schools because of her headscarf has decided to attend classes in Belgium this year, according to her lawyer.

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