Spain: City in northeast becomes country's first to ban niqab

Madrid, (AKI): Lleida in the northeastern Catalonia region on Thursday became Spain's first city to introduce a ban on wearing the face-covering Islamic burqa in public places.

These places include offices, sports centres, markets and other property owned by the city council. The niqab - which covers the face but leaves a small slit for the eyes - has also been banned.

"I feel proud of the fact that Lleida has become the first Spanish city to outlaw behaviour which discriminates against women," said the city's mayor, Angel Ros. "I hope it will be of educational value," he added.

The ban, which was approved by the council in May, is largely symbolic, as Muslims make up just 3 percent of Lleida's population, and there are only a handful of women living there who wear the burqa and the niqab.
Under the municipal bylaw banning the face-covering garments, women who wear them in a public place will have to reveal their identity. If they refuse, they face fines ranging from 30 to 600 euros.

Other cities in the autonomous Catalonia region, including the capital, Barcelona, are mulling burqa bans.

And the central government has in recent months been working on legislation covering religious symbols, which could outlaw the burqa throughout Spain, home to a million Muslims.

In neighbouring France, the national parliament in September outlawed the burqa and veils which cover the face. Women there can be fined or jailed for wearing such garments.

The same month, two separate bills were presented in the upper and lower houses of the Italian parliament which aim to end the wearing of burqas and face-covering garments in Italy on security grounds.

Many Muslim immigrants oppose such bans on the grounds that they limit religious freedom.