Woman defies law banning the burqa

Brussels, Belgium - A Moroccan woman living in a small town in Belgium has single-handedly triggered a national debate on multiculturalism after refusing to obey a municipal injunction to stop wearing a burqa.

The woman has now prompted politicians in the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium to talk about changing federal law, after she became the first person in Belgium to be fined for wearing the all-enveloping veil and robe.

She has so far refused to pay the £80 fine, or even to co-operate with police and municipal authorities in the Flemish town of Maaseik.

The woman's husband was named in a Brussels court yesterday as one of 13 men accused of aiding and abetting terrorists linked to the Madrid train bombings.

Khalid Bouloudo, 30, a pastry chef, is alleged to be the Belgian co-ordinator of the Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain, an anti-western organisation linked to the Madrid blasts and the 2003 bombings in Casablanca that killed nearly 50 people.

The burqa, together with a smaller type of face mask, the niqab, has been banned by bylaw in the cities and towns of Ghent, Antwerp, Sint-Truden, Lebbeke and Maaseik.

The mayor of Maaseik, Jan Cleemers, said he acted after six women started wearing burqas, alarming locals. Five of the women stopped wearing the garments.

A police inspector in Maaseik said the head-to-toe covering of Bouloudo's wife, who has refused to speak to police or give her name, offended and alarmed locals.

"You cannot identify or recognise someone when they're wearing a burqa, especially at night. It's not normal, we don't have that in our culture," he said.