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EU's Barroso calls veils obstacles to communication

Written by: Staff

ROME, Oct 26 (Reuters) European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has called veils worn by Muslim women obstacles to communication, throwing himself into the highly charged debate that has broken out in some European countries.

In an interview published in Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper on Thursday, Barroso also reiterated worries about predominately Muslim Turkey's progress towards EU membership, saying necessary reforms were proceeding very slowly.

Commenting on a controversy that has broken out most recently in Europe in Britain, Barroso was quoted as saying he opposed laws that said what could and could not be worn.

''But there are matters of common sense,'' he said.

''I give you an example: a teacher who presents herself to students with a completely veiled face is not doing something reasonable in our society.

''And in general, if a person wants to communicate she can't present herself with a veil that covers her entire face, except for a small opening for the eyes. It's clear that that's an obstacle.'' Asked about reforms Turkey needs to undertake to advance its bid to join the European Union, amid concerns Ankara risks a suspension of its bid, Barroso reiterated concerns.

''I'm sorry to say it, but things are going badly,'' he said.

''We're at a critical moment. The reforms in Turkey are proceeding very slowly and today, I don't see the progress I would have hoped for.

''Let's hope that the Finnish presidency will manage to avoid a traumatic stop to negotiations. But, honestly, I am worried.'' Barroso was referring to proposals from the Finnish EU presidency to resolve a dispute between Turkey and Cyprus threatening to derail Turkey's EU bid.

The controversy about veils in Europe was rekindled when Britain's former Foreign Minister Jack Straw said Muslim women who wore full veils made community relations difficult, calling veils a ''visible statement of separation and difference''.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair called veils a ''mark of separation'', while Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said it was a matter of common sense that people show their faces in public.

The question of whether Europe is doing enough to integrate Muslims has been urgently addressed by governments since the London attacks of July 2005 when British-born Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 people.

Reuters LL VV1316

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