French President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday risked outraging Muslims by calling for the burka to be banned.
He claimed the traditional, garment was a “debasement” of women – and not welcome in France.
He added: “In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. The burka is not a religious sign. 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.”
The French leader spoke out in the first presidential address in 136 years to a joint session of France’s two houses of parliament.
He backed recent calls for a commission to study a small but growing trend of wearing the full-body gown. Last week French Communist party deputy Andre Gerin launched a campaign to make it illegal for women to hide their faces in public.
He said: “We find it intolerable to see images of these imprisoned women when they come from Iran, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia.”
Women’s rights activists are also supporting the proposed ban, branding the burka “a symbol of oppression”.
But the national Muslim Council of France accused politicians of wasting time on a fringe phenomenon.
Mohammed Moussaoui, head of the council, said: “To raise the subject like this is a way of stigmatising Islam.”