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Spanish lawmakers reject plan for burqa ban study

Source: Reuters - Wed 21st Jul 2010

A proposal for a study of a ban on full-length Islamic veils in public places was thrown out by the Spanish parliament on Tuesday, weeks after France and Belgium outlawed the wearing of the garments.

The conservative opposition Popular Party had submitted a resolution asking the Socialist government to study prohibiting the veils, known as burqas or niqabs, which cover the face and body and are worn by some Muslim women.

It was rejected by a margin of 21 votes in the 350-seat lower house. Even if it had been approved it would not have been binding on the Socialist government.

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Opponents of a ban say it will harm democracy and violate religious rights while supporters say it is a matter of national security and of adaptation to local customs.

PP legislator Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said banning the veil would restore dignity and identity to women.

"How can our soldiers be fighting in Afghanistan for the liberty of these women while the government has no courage to defend them here?" she said.

Women's and Muslim groups say only a handful of women in Spain wear the niqab, which reveals only the eyes, and perhaps none use the burqa, which has a screen over the eyes.

Last month Barcelona became the first big city in predominantly Catholic Spain to forbid full face veils in public buildings such as markets and libraries, joining the smaller towns of Lerida and El Vendrell, also in Catalonia in northeast Spain, which took similar steps earlier in the year.

Laure Rodriguez Quiroga, head of the Union for Muslim Women in Spain, says there is a current of conservative Islam in areas such as Lerida, which is not the case in most of Spain.

"Not identifying yourself in a public building is, quite rightly, already illegal in Spain. We do not need a specific bill regarding the burqa or niqab" she said.

In April, the lower house of the Belgian parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of banning all clothing that covers or partially covers the face. Last week France, home to about 5 million Muslims, did the same.

The senates of both countries are expected to also pass the measures in the next few months.

Spain, where Muslims account for roughly 2.3 percent of the population, has a long history of tolerance as well as friction with Islam, partly as a result of almost eight centuries of rule over parts of the country by Muslim Moors until the late 15th century.