German Euro MP Koch-Mehrin urges EU burka ban

A top German Euro MP has called for a Europe-wide ban on wearing the Islamic full-body veil, or burka, in public.

Silvana Koch-Mehrin, a member of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), said the burka was "a massive attack on women's rights - it is a mobile prison".

Her party is in the German government with Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU).

Belgian MPs have voted to ban garments covering the face in public, including the burka and the Islamic niqab.

The ban would be the first such restriction in Europe if backed by Belgium's upper house.

In an article in the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, Ms Koch-Mehrin said wearing the burka "openly supports values that we do not share in Europe".

"I want the wearing of all forms of the burka to be banned in Germany too - and throughout Europe."

Opposition to ban

CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach, who heads the German parliament's home affairs committee, disagreed with Ms Koch-Mehrin, saying such a ban was unnecessary, German media reported.

The head of Germany's Muslim Council, Aiman Mazyek, also opposed a ban, calling the debate on the veil "quite irrational". He warned that it would increase the gulf between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Some German states have banned the wearing of Islamic headscarves by teachers in state schools.

The Belgian law would ban any clothing that obscures the identity of the wearer in places like parks and on the street.

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.

Those who break the law could face a fine of 15-25 euros (£13-£27) or a seven-day jail sentence.

In France, a draft law that would ban full-face veils is backed by President Nicolas Sarkozy. It has not yet gone before the French government or parliament.

The French law would impose a 150-euro fine for wearing such a veil, or compulsory attendance on a citizenship course.

The penalty for forcing someone to wear the burka or niqab would be heavier - a year in prison and a 15,000-euro fine, the AFP news agency reports.

Fewer than 2,000 women in France wear the burka or niqab, officials say.

(Published by BBC - May 3, 2010)

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