Bulgaria joins France and Belgium and bans the burqa and niqab

Bulgaria’s parliament has approved a law banning women from wearing veils that cover their faces in public amid increasing fears over acts of Islamic terrorism in the country.

The law was pushed by the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition, whose co-leader Krasimir Karakachanov cited security reasons, saying ‘the burqa is more a uniform than a religious symbol’.

The ban will apply for both Bulgarian citizens and those entering the country temporarily.

The new law states that clothing that conceals the face may not be worn in the institutions of Bulgaria’s central and local administrations, schools, cultural institutions, and places of public recreation, sports and communications.

The covering of the head, eyes, ears and mouth will only be permitted for health reasons, professional necessity and at sporting and cultural events.

Perhaps controversially the ban will also apply to houses of worship which could cause a backlash from Bulgaria’s 580,000 Muslim minority who make up around 8% of the population, as of a 2011 national census.

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Krasimir Velchev, a senior lawmaker for the ruling GERB party, said: ‘The law is not directed against religious communities and is not repressive.’

‘We made a very good law for the safety of our children.’

The law was opposed by the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the third-largest party in parliament, which has a substantial Muslim electorate. In protest, the group walked out of the chamber.

Women who violate the ban face fines of up to 770 euros (£665), as well as a suspension of social benefits.

The ban comes amid fears over Islamic terror attacks in Europe and heated debates over the use of the burqa across the continent.

France became the first country in Europe to ban Islamic veils, such as the burka and the niqab, in public places in April 2011.

Woman seen sporting the face veil can be fined while those who threaten a woman to wear the garb can be fined up to 30,000 Euros.

In the wake of a number of terror attacks parts of France also banned the burkini-Islamic swimwear that covers women’s bodies and faces-although some states over turned the ban saying it is unconstitutional.

In July 2011 Belgium also outlawed the burqa and the niqab and those caught wearing the face veil in public pieces could be jailed for up to seven days and fined.

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In May 2015 the Netherlands passed a partial ban on face covering Islamic veils which bars women from wearing it in government buildings, schools, hospitals and on public transport.

The Ticino region of Switzerland outlawed the veil in public places while a draft vote in the Swiss parliament this week saw politicians vote in favour, albeit by one vote, of a nationwide burqa ban.

However the plans remain far from coming into force after a previous proposal for a ban on the face covering veils was voted down by state representatives at a commission in January.

The Lombardy government in Italy also approved bans in local hospitals and government buildings in 2015.

Bulgaria forms part of the migrant route from Turkey to mainland Europe as the two countries share 260km border although Bulgarian authorities erected a 146km long fence to block their entry last year.

Many Bulgarians fear that the migrant inflows into Europe could threaten its dominant Orthodox Christian culture and help radicalise part of the country’s long-established Muslim minority.

Many Bulgarians fear that the migrant inflows into Europe could threaten the dominant Orthodox Christian culture and help radicalise part of the country’s long-established Muslim minority.

Bulgaria is a Balkan country of 7.2 million people and is part of the European Union.

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