Europe

'Burkini-only day' at French waterpark criticised

The Islamic full-length swimming suit known as burkini is displayed on mannequins at a sports store in Dubai on August 23, 2009 Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Women who attend "must be covered from the chest to the knees", organisers say

A waterpark in France is to be booked out for one day to Muslim women wanting to wear "burkinis" - but the decision has led to criticism by politicians on the right.

A community group in Marseille arranged the day, giving access only to women wearing the all-over swimming garment.

The group was set up to "encourage women to join in with the community".

Some leading political figures said the move was contrary to France's legally enshrined secular values.

"Accepting this so-called fashion means we accept communalism in our country," said Valerie Boyer, a mayor of two Marseille districts from the centre-right group Les Republicains group, led by ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

"However, it's also a question of the woman's dignity, a question of our most fundamental principles."

A note by the event organisers, Smile 13, said that women attending "must be covered from the chest to the knees".

France was the first European country to ban the full-face Islamic veil in public places, but it is legal to wear Islamic dress.

France has about five million Muslims, the largest Muslim minority in Western Europe, but it is thought only about 2,000 women wear full veils.

Islamic headscarves were also banned in French schools in 2004.

Boys under the age of 10, but no men, will also be allowed to attend the burkini day, which will take place at the Speedwater Park near Marseille on 17 September.

The decision was also attacked by Stephane Ravier, a mayor of two other Marseille districts with the far-right Front National.

"This Islamist day demonstrates that, outside of the comforting words of Muslim authorities, a certain number of Muslims are deciding among themselves to break away from our Republican model and put themselves outside our society," he said.

Neither Speedwater Park nor Smile 13 has commented on the criticism.

But Smile 13 has received some messages of support, as well as attacks, on its Facebook page.

"Good luck, ladies, I hope this takes place" wrote one woman, who said: "And I don't even wear the veil."

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