Headscarf woman kept out of bank

The French bank Société Générale said yesterday one of its security guards had been "over-zealous" in turning away from a branch in Paris a Muslim woman who was wearing an Islamic headscarf.

The woman was stopped from entering on Monday after she refused to abide by a sign that required customers to take off "scarves, caps, helmets and all other head coverings and sunglasses", a measure taken against robbers trying to disguise themselves.

But the incident took on bigger proportions, with France in the throes of a fierce debate over whether to ban Islamic headscarves and other "conspicuous" religious items from schools and public offices.

Islamic groups around the world have decried the proposal, which was backed last week by President Jacques Chirac.

A bank spokesman said the entry requirement had been in force for several years, "but employees know how to distinguish between possible masked robbers and a client. The matter has been blown up because of the context."