France’s Prime Minister has backed the banning of burkini swimsuits, saying they are not compatible with French values and are based on the “enslavement of women”.
His comments come after a series of towns in the Mediterranean coast announced a ban, citing security concerns following a summer marred by extremist attacks.
However, Manuel Valls told the La Provence newspaper he was not in favour of a national law along such lines, even as three more towns said they were considering similar moves.
Michel Py, the mayor Leucate, was preparing to sign a municipal decree on Tuesday to bar access to public beaches to "any person who is not properly dressed, respectful of moral behaviour and secularis, hygiene and bathing safety".
"The wearing of bathing clothes which are associated with these principles is also forbidden," says the decree, seen by the AFP news agency.
The mayors of Oye-Page and Le Touquet in the north of France have been similarly outspoken, with MP Daniel Fasquelle saying: “There are no burkinis in Le Touquet at the moment, but I don't want the town hall to be caught offguard if we are affected by this phenomenon.”
On Monday, a town in Corsica became the third in France to ban the full-bodied swimsuit following a clash between local residents and bathers of North African descent.
Five people were injured in a beach brawl near the town of Disco, in Upper Corsica on Saturday, which reportedly erupted after young locals began taking pictures of North African families wearing burkinis.
An investigation into the brawl is underway, which witnesses say involved hatchets and harpoons and also resulted in three cars being set alight, according to France 24.
Disco’s ban follows prohibitions on the full-body swimwear in the French Riviera resorts of Cannes and Villeneuve-Loubet earlier this month.
Lionnel Luca, the mayor of Villeneuve-Loubet, said the ban was put in place for sanitary reasons.
But he also told AFP: “In France, one does not come to the beach dressed to display one’s religious convictions, especially as they are false convictions that the religion does not demand.”
It is unclear in each case how the ban will be enforced and if it would also include wetsuits or other clothing worn for swimming.
The bans have provoked strong criticism from Muslim groups and anti-discrimination organisations, who argue women should have the freedom to dress how they wish.
France already has a controversial country-wide “burqa ban”, which outlaws full-face veils in public, and analysts have said the beach rules could worsen feelings of alienation and fuel extremist propaganda.
The bans have been interpreted as a reaction to recent terror attacks in France, including the murder of a Catholic priest by two Isis supporters in Normandy and an attack that killed 85 people in Nice.
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