Germany's interior minister came out in favour of partially banning the full-face burqa Islamic veil on Friday, as a debate on integration rages after two jihadist attacks, and ahead of key state polls.
The call by Thomas de Maiziere comes as Chancellor Angela Merkel's government attempts to address public fears surrounding last year's record influx of migrants and refugees. It also echoed a controversial move by several French towns in recent weeks to outlaw "burkinis", the full-body Islamic swimsuit, at a highly sensitive time for relations with the Muslim community following a series of Islamist attacks.
"We agree that we reject the burqa, we agree that we want to introduce a legal requirement to show one's face in places where it is necessary for our society's coexistence: at the wheel, at public offices, at the registry office, in schools and universities, in the civil service, in court," De Maiziere said after a meeting with regional counterparts from his conservative bloc.
He told public television that the full-face veil "does not belong in our cosmopolitan country".
"We want to show our faces to each other and that is why we agree that we reject this. The question is, how we put this into law," he said. De Maiziere, who was to hold a press conference later on Friday on the proposal, did not say when he would put forward a draft bill.
But he indicated that outlawing the burqa only under certain circumstances, as opposed to the blanket ban favoured by the hard right of Merkel's Christian Union bloc, would be "likely to win approval" in parliament. Merkel's right-left "grand coalition" holds an overwhelming majority in the Bundestag lower house.
Islamic State threat 'already there'
In an interview with a regional newspaper this week, Merkel underlined her objections to the burqa. "From my point of view, a woman who is entirely veiled has hardly any chance at integrating," she said.
De Maiziere's position outlined on Friday represents a compromise with hardliners ahead of two pivotal regional elections next month in which the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party looks set to make strong gains.
Just last week he had rejected a call from conservative state interior ministers for a sweeping burqa ban, saying: "We can't ban everything that we reject, and I reject the wearing of the burqa."
He made the comments on August 11 as he unveiled tough new anti-terror measures after two attacks in Germany last month claimed by the Islamic State group. The measures included a controversial proposal to strip jihadist fighters of their German nationality, as well as to speed up deportations of convicted criminal migrants and boost police resources.
The AfD in particular has attempted to link the arrival of nearly 1.1 million migrants and refugees in Germany last year with an increased threat of terrorism, an argument Merkel sharply rejected this week on the campaign trail in her home district.
"The phenomenon of Islamist terrorism by Islamic State is not something that came to us with the refugees, it was already there," she said, referring to the threat posed by homegrown militants.