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Burkini ban would be unconstitutional and fuel tensions, says French interior minister

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says law prohibiting the modest swimwear would stoke tensions when France needs ‘healing’

Rachael Pells
Monday 29 August 2016 09:52 BST
Women join a demonstration organised by 'Stand up to Racism' outside the French Embassy in London on August 26, against the Burkini ban on French beaches
Women join a demonstration organised by 'Stand up to Racism' outside the French Embassy in London on August 26, against the Burkini ban on French beaches (Getty)

A law to ban the burkini in France would fuel tensions between communities and would be unconstitutional and ineffective, French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve has said.

France’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, ruled on Friday against a decision by the mayor of resort town Villeneuve-Loubet to ban the full-body swimwear.

Mayors from around 30 French towns along the Riviera have enforced the ban; many of whom have said they will refuse to back down on their decision despite the recent court ruling.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who plans to run for President again in next year’s election, said the wearing of a burkini was a political act and said he would bring in a nationwide ban if he returned to power.

But speaking to French newspaper Le Croix, Mr Cazaneuve said it was unlikely this would come into place.

“The government… refuses to legislate on the matter because any such law would be unconstitutional, ineffective and likely to create antagonism and irreparable tension,” he said.

”We do not need a new law. Current laws clearly lay out France's secularism.“

”However, Muslims must continue to engage with us over gender equality, the inviolable nature of the principles of the French Republic, and tolerance in order to live together“. By overthrowing the decision of the mayor, the court has ”stated the law“, he added.

On Monday, Mr Cazeneuve is due to have “a day of consultations” with religious figures and parliamentarians regarding Islam in France.

He also criticised the opposition party for using the issue for political gain and stoking tensions during a time of religious unrest.

“Certain opposition leaders are making a lot of noise. They think that in the current context of terror threats, we can abandon the fundamental principles of law as embodied in the Constitution,” he said, warning that such a move would be “a serious mistake”.

The debate follows footage released of armed police attempting to force a woman to remove her burkini top on a beach in Nice last week.

A tribunal in the city previously ruled a burkini ban in the Villeneuve-Loubet resort was “necessary, appropriate and proportionate” to prevent public disorder.

The controversy around modest swimwear has filtered into new campaigns for the next presidential election and is the subject of highly charged debate.

”France needs healing and people coming together, not divisive outbursts by those contesting in primaries,“ Cazeneuve said.

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