Woman charged in France for driving in full burka

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The Independent Online

A French Muslim woman has been fined for wearing a burka at the wheel of her car – weeks before the proposed introduction of a total ban on the full-body veil.

The 31-year-old was stopped by two policemen in Nantes in western France earlier this month as she drove wearing a burka, or niqab, covering all but her eyes. She was given a €22 (£19) fine for "driving in uncomfortable conditions", because her vision was allegedly reduced. Her lawyer lodged an appeal this week, claiming that her human rights had been infringed.

"Wearing a veil is not yet illegal on the public highway," said Maître Jean-Michel Pollono. "Otherwise, [police hit squads] should be banned from driving while wearing ski masks and motorcyclists should be banned from riding wearing goggles."

The incident has provoked both amusement and outrage in France. Critics of government policy say that it is a symptom of the "burka hysteria" generated since some politicians on both right and left – supported by President Nicolas Sarkozy – first called for a ban on the full body veil last summer.

This week, the government announced that it planned to ignore official advice and push through an "emergency" law banning the full veil from public places in France by July. There are an estimated 1.5m to 2m adult Muslim women in France. According to a report by the security services, no more than 2,000 – or 0.1 per cent – wear the burka or its Arab equivalent, the niqab.

The government, supported by some politicians from both right and left and women's rights groups, says the full veil is incompatible with France's official Republican values of liberty and equality. Critics, on both right and left, say that a ban is unnecessary and will inflame race relations.

It also emerged yesterday that a leading advocate of the burka ban, Jean-François Copé, the head of the ruling centre-right party in the National Assembly, had received death threats from extremist Islamic groups. He has been given extra bodyguards.

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