Nicolas Sarkozy has labelled the burkini a “provocation” that supports radical Islam as the debate over the ban on the swimwear intensified ahead of a court ruling that will determine whether they are legal.
Controversy over “burkini bans”, imposed in a number of the country’s world-famous Riviera resorts, heightened on Tuesday after photographs emerged showing four police officers armed with handguns, batons and pepper spray forcing a woman on a beach in Nice to remove her burkini.
Nice is the most recent French resort to ban the full-body swimsuits worn by some Muslim women, following bans in the Corsican town of Disco, and the Riviera resorts of Cannes and Villeneuve-Loubet.
Several women have now been fined in France for wearing the swimwear.
Wading into the debate, France’s former conservative president said the country should not “imprison women behind fabric”, adding that “doing nothing” against the burkini would “suggest France appears weak”, Le Point reports.
In an interview due to be published in Le Figero Magazine on Friday, Mr Sarkozy said: “Wearing a burkini is a political act, it's militant, a provocation.
“If we do not put an end to this, there is a risk that in 10 years, young Muslim girls who do not want to wear the veil or burkini will be stigmatised and peer-pressured.”
The bans are now set to be scrutinised by France’s State Council, the country’s highest administrative court, after human rights groups challenged the prohibitions.
The Human Rights League (LDH) is appealing a decision by a lower court in Nice, which upheld a ban on the swimwear by the town of Villeneuve-Loubet.
The LDH said the ban is a “serious and illegal attack on numerous fundamental rights”, including freedom of religion
As a leading opposition figure, Mr Sarkozy announced this week he is running for the presidency again in next spring's election.
Mr Sarkozy says if he wins, he will ban every religious sign in French universities.
He is expected to campaign on a hard-line platform on immigration and security issues.
Additional reporting by Associated Press
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