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French towns defiant as top court suspends burkini ban, will continue to fine women

Nice town hall said it would 'continue to fine' women wearing the burkini as long as its ban put in place on August 19 was not overturned. Photograph: (Getty)

AFP Marseille, France Aug 26, 2016, 08.55 PM (IST)
France's highest administrative court yesterday suspended a controversial ban on the burkini by a French Riviera town, although other resorts remained defiant, vowing to keep the restrictions in place.

The State Council ruled the measure was a "serious and clearly illegal violation of fundamental freedoms", in a judgement expected to lead to bans being overturned in around 30 towns along the French coast. 

Restrictions 'still valid'

The case by two rights groups seeking to reverse the ban has triggered a debate in France on women's rights, and sparked censorious headlines around the world. 

Police action to fine Muslim women for wearing burkinis on beaches in several towns, including in the tourist resorts of Nice and Cannes, also triggered a debate on French state's strictly-guarded secularism. 
But the ruling provoked defiance from several Riviera resorts, who pledged to continue imposing fines. 

In recent weeks, around 30 French municipalities decided to ban access to public beaches "by anyone not wearing proper attire, which is respectful of good morality and the principle of secularism and not respectful of the rules of hygiene and bathing security". 

Nice town hall said it would keep the restrictions and continue to fine women wearing the burkini as long as its ban put in place on August 19 was not overturned.  The far-right mayor of Frejus, David Rachline, also insisted his ban was "still valid", telling the media there was "no legal procedure" against his ruling. 

Ange-Pierre Vivoni, Socialist mayor of the Corsican town of Sisco, said his Burkini ban, introduced this month following a confrontation between Moroccan bathers and locals, would also remain "for the safety of property and people in the town because I risked having deaths on my hands".

Meanwhile, United Nations hailed the suspension of the ban on the Islamic full-body swimsuit. But the ruling, which only applied to the ban imposed by Villeneuve-Loubet, was quickly dismissed by several other towns, including Nice.

In a judgement expected to set a precedent, the State Council ruled that local authorities could only restrict individual liberties if wearing the Islamic swimsuit was a "proven risk" to public order. The judges said there was no such risk in the case before the court concerning Villeneuve-Loubet, one of around 30 towns to have introduced the bans.

The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) hailed the ruling as a "victory for common sense". 

And UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said "we welcome the decision by the court," noting that the world body stresses "the need for people's dignity to be respected."

(WION with inputs from AFP)
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