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Italian parliament mulling burqa ban

Bill gains support as France moves to block Muslim garment

27 January, 18:38
Italian parliament mulling burqa ban (ANSA) - Rome, January 27 - The Italian parliament is considering a ban on veils that mask Muslim women's faces similar to the one proposed this week in France, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said Wednesday.

He said members of his own devolutionist Northern League party had actually beaten France to the bunch when they put their own bill banning burqas in public last fall.

The question arose as a report to the French General Assembly on Tuesday concluded that wearing face-masking veils should be illegal in public buildings like hospital and schools, as well as public transport.

Their inquiry was launched after French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that burqas debased women and "aren't welcome in France".

While the argument across the Alps for banning burqas centered largely on a perceived affront to secular French values, politicians say the issue in Italy is primarily one of security.

The bill before parliament harkens back to a 1975 anti-terrorism law, which forbids any mask or clothing that makes it impossible to identify the wearer. In fact, European Affairs Minister Andrea Ronchi said that "a new law shouldn't even be necessary. It should be enough to enforce the one we have".

The issue has also proven less divisive in Italy than it has in France, finding tentative support among center-left opposition members as well.

Former Radical Emma Bonino, now the Democratic Party's (PD) candidate for president of the Lazio region around Rome, said she supported the ban "for the same reason you can't walk into post office wearing a ski mask".

"Religion has nothing to do with it, this is a question of public safety. Everyone has to be identifiable" she said.

She was later echoed by the PD's pointwoman on culture, MP Giovanna Melandri, who has often decried welling racism in Italy, but said that wearing burqas is, for all intensive purposes, already against the law.

Ironically, most criticism for the bill on Thursday came from the right with Alessandra Mussolini, grandaughter of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who warned the law would "unleash a religious war and that's the last thing Italy needs right now".

Lombardy region President Roberto Formigoni, a member of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, also said he thought the bill was ""impracticable" in Italy and that a better solution would emerge from dialogue with the country's Muslim community.

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