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France top court set to rule on burkini ban amid disputes over controversial move


A Muslim woman wears a burkini, as she swims in the Mediterranean Sea in Marseille, France, August 17, 2016. (Reuters photo)
A top French court is set to study a ban imposed on women wearing full-body swimsuits, known as “burkinis,” on the beach, amid concerns in the European country about violations of freedom of religion.

France’s highest administrative authority, known as the Council of State, will hold a hearing on the controversial ban on Thursday and is expected to announce the decision on whether to overturn the ban within 48 hours.

Rights groups and anti-Islamophobia associations, which have appealed to the court to overturn the ban, argue that the move is discriminatory and in breach of French law, stressing that the ban violates basic freedoms of dress, religious expression and movement.

This comes amid growing concerns that the move would also foment religious tensions in France.

The ban appears to have split senior members of the French government.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Thursday reiterated his support for mayors who have banned the burkinis but added that the enforcement of the bans must be handled respectfully.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve also said there was nothing to stop mayors taking action, as long as it is “rigorously proportionate.”

But Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said that bans on the garment were politically driven and unleashing racist sentiment.

Authorities in 15 French towns have banned the wearing of the burkini. The expected ruling by the State Council will provide a legal precedent for towns to follow across the country.

The controversial ban on the burkini, which has been imposed by French mayors, has its own supporters in the French judicial system.

Lower courts like the tribunal in the Riviera city of Nice said Wednesday that the burkini could “be felt as a defiance or a provocation exacerbating tensions felt by” the community, after a terror attack in the area in July in which dozens were mowed down by a truck.

The ruling by the State Council will provide a legal precedent for towns to follow across the country.

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