Three seaside towns in France are planning to ban the burqini, the full-body Islamic swimming garment that has sparked concern about religious extremism.
In the southwest, the mayor of the resort town of Leucate, Michel Py, was to sign a municipal decree later on Tuesday that would ban the burqini on public beaches, Leucate’s town hall said.
The decree, which runs until 31 August, will bar access to public beaches to “any person who is not properly dressed, respectful of moral behaviour and secularism, hygiene and bathing safety”.
In the town of Oye-Plage, the mayor said on Tuesday he would also move to ban the burqini after seeing a woman wearing “a complete cape and gloves, covering her face and her eyes” as she headed to the beach on Sunday.
In the nearby upmarket resort town of Le Touquet, local mayor and MP Daniel Fasquelle said he would also implement a burqini ban in the coming days “to fight against religious proselytising”.
“There are no burqinis in Le Touquet at the moment, but I don’t want the town hall to be caught off guard if we are affected by this phenomenon,” Fasquelle told AFP.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls also weighed in on the debate, lashing the wearing of the burqini as “not compatible with the values of France and the republic” and saying he supported mayors who ban it if they acted in the public good.
On 14 July, Nice was the target of an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group when a Tunisian ploughed a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day, killing 85 people.
And on 26 July, a priest was killed in his church in northwestern France by two attackers who had proclaimed their allegiance to IS.
The following day, the Cote d’Azur city of Cannes banned the burqini and the nearby resort of Villeneuve-Loubet followed suit in early August.
Fight on Corsican beach
Sisco, located on the French island Corsica, also introduced a ban amid a fight between locals and families of North African origin that left five people injured.
A witness said the violence broke out after tourists took pictures of women swimming in burqinis on the Mediterranean island. Investigators are still probing what happened.
The first ban on the burqini has been attributed to Mandelieu-la-Napoule, close to Cannes, where it was discreetly barred in July 2013.
But Villeneuve-Loubet mayor Lionnel Luca had a different argument, saying swimming “fully dressed… [was] unacceptable for hygienic reasons”.
Meanwhile, the bans are opposed by some, who contend they are a populist ploy, violate human rights and likely to inflame tensions.
The Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge to the ban in Cannes.
It is now taking its case to the Council of State, the highest judicial authority in France for administrative matters.
France has been hit by a string of attacks over the past 19 months that have left the country on edge and fretting over homegrown religious extremism.
Partly as a result, the burqini has become embroiled in a fierce debate about perceived religious symbols and their place in a strongly secular country. To critics, the garment is associated with an intolerant and sectarian strand of Islam.