Concessions Made on French Veil Ban Before Vote

France's ruling conservatives have made two tactical concessions on their ban on religious emblems in state schools in a bid to ensure wide backing for the controversial law in a parliament vote next Tuesday.

In one amendment made as parliament closed its debate on the law late Thursday, schools will now be required to hold talks aimed at resolving the dispute with any pupil flouting the law before they proceed with disciplinary measures.

The other calls for a review of the law after one year to see if its call for a ban on "conspicuous" symbols rather than merely "visible" ones is sufficiently clear to avoid argument.

France's opposition Socialists had asked for the two amendments in return for their support in next week's National Assembly vote. The law, which some Muslims argue unfairly targets them, now looks set to win widespread support.

Former minister Jean Glavany, who is the Socialist spokesman on the issue, welcomed the stipulation that schools attempt to find a last-minute compromise with pupils in breach of the law.

"The aim of state schools is to integrate people, not to exclude them," he told French radio Friday.

"We did not want the law to lead to an automatic process of exclusion," he added of a text which would allow schools to expel pupils who flouted the principle of secularity in French public institutions.

The law was debated for some 22 hours over four days with 120 speakers taking the floor, including Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Education Minister Luc Ferry and the leaders of all of France's mainstream parties.


Few dissenters had emerged from President Jacques Chirac's majority UMP party against the law which is meant to ban Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses from classrooms.

The proposed ban has reaped criticism from religious leaders in France and abroad but enjoys wide popular support from French who see Islam -- the country's second religion -- threatening the neutrality France's secular laws demand for state schools.

The Socialists wanted tougher legislation targeting all visible symbols rather than just conspicuous ones, a wording they say is too open to interpretation.

The text of the law, due to take effect from the new school year in September, states that "the wearing in state schools and colleges of religious signs or dress through which pupils conspicuously show a religious affiliation is prohibited."

An 84 percent majority of teachers surveyed in a CSA opinion poll this week supported the idea of expelling girls from school if they refuse to bare their heads once the law is passed.

But deputy Noel Mamere of the Greens, who along with the small centrist Union for French Democracy (UDF) party opposes the ban, warned the law could deepen divisions between France's majority population and its five million Muslims.

"This is a dangerous law of convenience that is aimed at stigmatizing the second religion in France," he said.