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Veil back in the spotlight in France as politicians debate new law

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Religious dress is back in the spotlight in France
Religious dress is back in the spotlight in France -
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Reuters - Hurst, Luke
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France has long been wrestling with issues around secularism and religion - a struggle well represented by the debate over the issue of religious face coverings.

Now, in the country's senate, the debate continues to rage, as politicians examine a proposed law aimed at banning the wearing of religious symbols by parents accompanying children on school trips.

The issue is being debated in the wake of a shocking attack at a mosque in Bayonne, where two elderly worshippers were injured by gunshots.

An 84-year-old, identified as a former local candidate for the Front National (now known as National Rally), is being questioned by police over the incident.

The senator for Bouches-du-Rhône, Samia Ghali, called on the leader of the senate to abandon the debate on the bill, which she has called “dangerous and hateful”.

She said: “For the republic one and indivisible. For the appeasing of the spirits. In accordance with the values that underlie our republic and secularism. In a spirit of responsibility, I asked Bruno Retailleau to withdraw the bill on the veil.”

However, Retailleau, of the conservative Republicans party dismissed the criticism, saying in a tweet that putting the text "under the carpet would be the worst thing to do".

Read more: Suspect in 80s questioned over attack on mosque in Bayonne

The draft law "to ensure the religious neutrality of persons participating in the public service of education" was tabled in July.

Since then, the issue over the wearing of the veil has been back in the spotlight, with the right pressing French president Emmanuel Macron to speak out on secularism.

Macron, while refusing to "give in to haste", on Monday urged representatives of the Muslim faith to further "fight" Islamism and communitarianism.

If the bill is adopted at first reading by the Senate, it will have no legal effect until it has been passed in the same terms by the National Assembly, dominated by the presidential majority.

The text's rapporteur, Max Brisson from the Republicans, says the ban on clothing or signs that "conspicuously" show religious affiliation would not apply to parents participating in school holidays, which is not a teaching activity, nor when they come to school to meet teachers.

While the centrists are divided, socialists and communists will vote against the text. Critics have warned reigniting the debate strengthens two forces - the National Rally and the Islamists.

France has one of the largest Muslim minorities in Europe, estimated at five million or more out of a population of 67 million.

The place of religion and religious symbols worn in public can be a matter of controversy in the staunchly secular country.

In 2010, conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy introduced a law that bans the full-face veil in public.

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