Sarkozy: Burqas Unwelcome in France

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The French government has taken another step closer to banning the Muslim veils known as burqas.

In an address to both houses of the French parliament Monday, President Nicolas Sarkozy lashed out at the Muslim practice of wearing the burqa, saying it debased women and that it won't be welcome in France.

"The burqa is not a religious sign," Sarkozy said. "it's a sign of subservience. A sign of debasement. I want to say it solemnly, it will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic."

Sarkozy was putting his weight behind a suggested new law would ban the wearing of the full-length veil anywhere in public. But his immigration minister worried that such a law would create unnecessary and unwelcome tensions.

France has four to five million muslims, the largest Muslim community in Europe. There is always a fear of a violent reaction to any new restrictions on Islam. Last New Year's Eve, mostly Muslim youths burned more than 1,100 cars in a single night, simply because they were bored and unhappy. Almost 9,000 vehicles were burned in 2005.

In 2004, France banned Islamic head scarves and other religious symbols, including Christian crosses and the Jewish caps from state schools.

Sarkozy's comments contradict President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo, when he said the United States prized freedom of religion and would not tell people what to wear.

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