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Viral photos add fuel to French burkini debate

24 August 2016, 19:30

Nice - An angry debate over a ban on burkinis in France was further stoked Wednesday as images of a veiled woman surrounded by police on a beach in Nice went viral.

The series of photos published by British media showed a woman dressed in leggings, a tunic and headscarf lying on a beach surrounded by four police officers.

At one point the woman removes her tunic - it is unclear if she was ordered to do so or did so of her own accord - while a policeman appears to write out a fine.

The photos, whose source is not clear, caused a furore on Twitter, where many interpreted them as the woman being forced to undress by police.

Underneath the tunic, she was wearing a sleeveless top.

"Question of the day: How many armed policemen does it take to force a woman to strip in public?" Andrew Stroehlein, European Media Director of Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter.

A comment by an activist named Sihame Assbague, retweeted more than 7 000 times, said the scene has made France "the laughing stock of the world".

"I am so ashamed", wrote French feminist Caroline De Haas.

The hashtag #WTFFrance (What the Fuck France) was trending on French Twitter.

Confusion over wording

Nice is one of about 15 French towns which has banned the wearing of the burkini - a full-body Islamic swimsuit which covers the head - on beaches, with authorities declaring it to contravene French secular values and threaten public order.

But the vague wording of the bans, which refer to beachwear that conspicuously demonstrate a person's religion has created confusion.

Beachgoers have been left to puzzle over whether it refers solely to head-to-toe swimwear, which some non-Muslims wear for protection from the sun, or to being fully clothed and having one's head covered on the seashore.

A mother of two told AFP on Tuesday she had been fined on the beach in the resort of Cannes for wearing leggings, a tunic and a headscarf.

"I was sitting on a beach with my family. I was wearing a classic headscarf. I had no intention of swimming," said the 34-year-old who gave only her first name, Siam.

France's highest administrative court, the State Council, will on Thursday examine a request by the Human Rights League (LDH) to scrap the ban, enforced on some 15 beaches in the country.

Lower courts have supported the decision by French mayors, with a tribunal in the Riviera city of Nice - where a crowd was mowed down in July in a grisly truck attack - said the burkini could "be felt as a defiance or a provocation exacerbating tensions felt by" the community.



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