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French PM glad to see Britain debating Muslim veil

Written by: Staff
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PARIS, Oct 26 (Reuters) French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin today welcomed Britain's debate about limiting Muslim veils, saying he was glad to see London come around to a view that Paris has held for a long time.

Villepin recalled that France was widely criticised in Britain two years ago when it banned the Muslim headscarf and other religious garb from its state schools as an unacceptable intrusion of faith into the public sphere.

The debate in Britain is about limiting the full facial veil, or niqab, and not the headscarf. But Villepin saw a parallel in the way both societies were setting standards to which immigrant communities would have to conform.

''I'm glad to see France's secular demands are now being discussed seriously abroad,'' Villepin said at his monthly news conference.

''British personalities often lectured me about this, (asking) why a country should pass a secular law about religious garb at school,'' he said.

''I'm glad to see they're now asking themselves the questions we've been asking ourselves for quite a long time. Being a country means respecting rules, and especially respecting authority. It means respecting principles and values, and that's France's strength.'' France has long insisted that its immigrants conform to French ways while Britain has traditionally followed a more flexible multicultural policy.

Britain's former Foreign Minister Jack Straw sparked the debate in Britain earlier this month by saying Muslim women who wore full veils made community relations harder. Prime Minister Tony Blair later called the veil ''a mark of separation''.

Elsewhere in Europe, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has said the veil should not be used to hide behind, while European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday that they were obstacles to communication.

REUTERS DKB HT1858

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