Bulgaria set to ban niqabs and burqas in crackdown on the face veil

Bill tabled by the nationalist Patriotic Front party backed by 108 MPs to eight against

Bulgaria will join France and the Netherlands in prohibiting clothing that covers the face
Bulgaria will join France and the Netherlands in prohibiting clothing that covers the face

Bulgaria is set to ban niqabs and burqas in a crackdown on women wearing face veils in public places.

A new bill, which was tabled by the nationalist Patriotic Front party (PF), was backed by 108 MPs, with just eight voting against it and no abstentions, at its first reading.

Bulgaria's second-largest opposition party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), attempted to postpone the reading by suggesting the measures be covered in counter-terrorism legislation instead, but the calls were rejected.

If passed, Bulgaria will join fellow European countries Latvia, France and the Netherlands in prohibiting clothing that covers the face.

The law states that clothing which obscures the face cannot be worn in government offices, schools, cultural institutions, and public places of recreation.

Tuncher Kardzhaliev, an MP for the MRF, told the Sofia Globe the bill had "no value" because the way it was drafted meant it could even apply to beekeepers – not just religious clothing.

Fines of 200 leva (£80) for the first and second offences will be incurred, and further offences will receive a 1,500 leva fine and deprivation of social benefits.

About 12 per cent of Bulgaria's 7.2 million population are Muslim, most of whom belong to a centuries-old community of ethnic Turks, which does not generally wear full-face veils.

In 2010 France banned full-face veils, and in May, the Netherlands introduced a partial ban on wearing a veil in schools, hospitals and on public transport.

Earlier this year, Latvia banned women from wearing the Islamic full-face veil in public, despite only three people being known to wear them in the entire country.

In January, David Cameron refused to introduce a blanket ban but said clear individual organisations can choose to stop Muslim women wearing veils.

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