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French veil ban clears last legal hurdle

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image captionUnder the law, women wearing the full veil in public will face a fine of 150 euros

France's constitutional court has approved the law set to ban wearing the Islamic full veil in public.

It approved it almost in its entirety, making one small change: the law will not apply to public places of worship where it may violate religious freedom.

The proposed measure had already been passed by parliament. It is due to come into force next spring.

The ban has strong public support, but critics point out that only a handful of French Muslims wear the full veil.

The law makes it illegal to wear garments such as the niqab or burka, which incorporate a full-face veil, anywhere in public.

Under the ban, persons found wearing a full veil in public will face a fine of 150 euros (£130) and/or a citizenship course.

Those found to force women to wear a full veil will face a 30,000-euro fine and a one-year jail term.

A last challenge is possible at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where decisions are binding.

Under the law, there is a six-month period of "education" to explain to women already wearing a face veil that they face arrest and a fine if they continue to do so in public spaces.

There are estimated to be only about 2,000 women wearing the full veil in France.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has backed the ban as part of a wider debate on French identity, but opponents say the government is pandering to far-right voters.

Spain and Belgium are debating similar legislation.

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