Italy government seeks veil ban

Rome, Italy - Italy is to put forward draft new legislation to ban the Islamic veil that covers the face.

Vice-premier Francesco Rutelli says current laws are insufficient.

The niqab and the burka have aroused concerns, not least because Italy has a law - intended to foil terrorism - against wearing masks in public.

Mr Rutelli has now entered the debate, calling for a change in Italian law which would make the wearing of the niqab an offence.

"If you look at the laws that are currently in place, they're not sufficient," he said.

"We need a new law, one that respects people's rights in our society but at the same time makes it quite clear that it's not acceptable for people to cover their faces."

The debate mirrors that in France, Holland and Britain, where politicians have described the niqab as a mark of separation.

Romano Prodi, the Italian prime minister, has already set out his position.

"You can't cover your face, you must be seen," he said recently. "It's important for society and for integration."

But the debate has sparked tensions.

The centre-right National Alliance MP, Daniela Santanche, is now receiving round-the-clock police protection after calling for a ban on the veil during a TV chat show.

Until recently Italians have been reluctant to ban religious symbols, perhaps as religion and the crucifix are such a key part of Italian society.

As for the headscarf, it has been commonplace for devout Roman Catholic women, especially in the south, to cover their heads when outdoors.