Spanish government to ban use of burqas

Spain's government said on Tuesday that it favours barring the use of burqas in government buildings, joining other European countries considering similar moves on the grounds that such garments are degrading to women.

Total body-covering Islamic veils demean women and the restriction will be included in an upcoming bill on religious issues, Justice Minister Francisco Caamano said.

The minister said garments like the burqa are "hardly compatible with human dignity" or with identifying a person in public spaces such as town halls or public schools.

"In my judgement it is extravagant for a woman to wear a burqa as it in no way reflects a religious mandate, but if a woman wants to wear one, then why shouldn't she?" said Mansur Escudero, spokesman for Spain's Islamic Commission.

Mr Escudero said wearing the burqa did not attack moral standards and should not be offensive, but most of all it was a personal choice – and to legislate against its use undermined civil liberties.

The so-called religious freedom bill would also prohibit religious symbols like crucifixes or statues in state-owned buildings including hospitals.

Authorities in several European countries have been debating regulating the use of body-covering burqas or face-covering niqabs.

Belgium's lower house has approved a ban on face-covering veils, though it must be ratified by its upper chamber. The Netherlands debated banning burqas four years ago and may yet outlaw them.