BELGIAN LAWMAKERS PASS BURKA BAN
Those who break the law could be fine or jailed for seven days
Belgium's lower house of parliament has voted for a law that would ban women from wearing the full Islamic face veil in public.
The law would ban any clothing that obscures the identity of the wearer in places like parks and on the street. No-one voted against it.
The law now goes to the Senate, where it may face challenges over its wording, which may delay it.
If passed, the ban would be the first move of its kind in Europe.
Only around 30 women wear this kind of veil in Belgium, out of a Muslim population of around half a million.
The BBC's Dominic Hughes in Brussels says MPs backed the legislation on the grounds of security, to allow police to identify people.
Other MPs said that the full face veil was a symbol of the oppression of women, our correspondent says.
Thursday's vote was almost unanimous with 134 MPs in support of the law and two abstentions.
It is expected to pass through the Senate without being blocked, with initial reports saying it could come into law as early as June or July.
But the Liberals and Christian Democrats – both represented in the Senate – say they will question the phrasing of the law, which could cause delays.
It will also take longer to become law if elections are called, as parliament would have to be dissolved. The Belgium government collapsed last week.
The Muslim Executive of Belgium has criticised the move, saying it would lead to women who do wear the full veil to be trapped in their homes.
Amnesty International said a ban would set a “dangerous precedent”.
In a statement, the human rights group said it would “violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or niqab as an expression of their identity and beliefs”.
The ban would be imposed in all buildings or grounds that are “meant for public use or to provide services”, including streets, parks and sports grounds.
Exceptions could be made for certain festivals.
Those who break the law could face a fine of 15-25 euros (£13-£27) or a seven-day jail sentence.
The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves come in a myriad of styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.