Man refused citizenship over burka in France

Paris, France - France's prime minister said yesterday he would sign a decree refusing French nationality to a man who forced his wife to wear the full Islamic veil, arguing he "has no place in our country."

The case has arisen amid a fierce national debate about what it means to be French, with the government seeking to legislate for a ban on the head-to-toe burka on the grounds that it is incompatible with French values.

Francois Fillon, the Prime Minister, told Europe 1 radio that he would sign the decree issued by Eric Besson, the Immigration Minister.

"It's French law," Mr. Fillon said. "The civil code has for a very long time provided that naturalization could be refused to someone who does not respect the values of the [French] republic.

"This case is about a religious radical: he imposes the burka, he imposes the separation of men and women in his own home, and he refuses to shake the hands of women.

"If this man does not want to change his attitude, he has no place in our country. In any case, he does not deserve French nationality."

French media reports identified the man as Moroccan and a member of the Tabligh sect, an austere fundamentalist group.

Mr. Fillon said his wife was French and she could continue to wear the full veil, if she wants, pending legislation.

The decision came after a parliamentary report last week called for a ban on the burka in schools, hospitals, government offices and public transport.

The French government is seeking legal advice before drafting legislation that would outlaw the burka or niqab in as many areas as possible.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, has declared the burka "not welcome" in secular France and is in favour of legislation to outlaw it, though he has also warned against stigmatizing Muslims.

According to the Interior Ministry, only about 1,900 women wear the burka in France, which is home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority.

Last month, Michele Alliot-Marie, the Justice Minister, said Muslim men who forced their wives to wear the full veil should not be granted citizenship.

Mr. Besson said on Tuesday that during checks into the man's application, he had explicitly stated he would never allow his wife to go out without a full veil and he believed that a woman "is an inferior being."

Two years ago a French court denied citizenship to a veiled Moroccan woman on the grounds her "radical" practice of Islam was not compatible with French values.

A recent survey showed 57% of French people were in favour of a law banning the burka.

Marine Le Pen, the deputy leader of the far-right National Front, said men who forced their wives to wear the full veil should be put on trial, convicted and expelled from the country.

In contrast, the leftist New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) said it was putting forward a candidate in the March regional elections who wears a "light veil."

The young student is on the party's list for the Vaucluse region of southern France.

In a statement, the NPA said she was "a militant feminist, anticapitalist and internationalist, who believes she must wear the veil in accordance with her religious convictions."

The wider debate over national identity has divided France, with critics arguing it is fomenting anti-foreigner and anti-Muslim sentiment and is little more than a grab for far-right votes before the March poll.