Netherlands to propose burqa ban

Amsterdam, Netherlands - The Dutch cabinet has backed a proposal by the country's immigration minister to ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa in public places.

The burqa, a full body covering that also obscures the face, would be banned by law in the street, and in trains, schools, buses and the law courts.

The cabinet said burqas disturb public order, citizens and safety.

Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk is known for her tough policies, and has clashed with past coalition partners.

Late last year she said the government would look into a ban after a majority in the Dutch parliament said they were in favour.

An estimated 5% of people living in the Netherlands are Muslims.

But there are just a few dozen women in the Netherlands who choose to wear the burqa, a traditional Islamic form of dress.

Critics of the proposed ban say it would violate civil rights.

The country's relationship with its Islamic community has been under scrutiny since the murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh by Islamic extremists in November 2004.

The decision by the centre-right government comes days ahead of an election in which questions of immigration and nationality are likely to play a key role.