Thursday, April 22, 2010

Language spat splits Belgian government; burqa ban law delayed

Open VLD chairman speaks after party quits Belgian coalition, causing government to collapse

Belgian Premier Yves Leterme's government collapsed on Thursday after negotiations broke down to resolve a long-simmering dispute between Dutch and French-speaking politicians over a bilingual voting district. Dutch-speaking Liberals, one of Leterme's five coalition parties, quit the Cabinet, accusing its Francophone counterparts of blocking a deal to break up the Brussels-area district the constitutional court ruled illegal in 2003. RU

The collapse of the Belgian government has thrown into doubt plans to pass a law that would ban Islamic veils in public.

The government, led by the prime minister, Yves Leterme, fell after the centre-right Flemish liberal party Open VLD pulled out of his five-month-old coalition. Leterme tendered his government's resignation to King Albert after an emergency cabinet meeting, but the monarch did not immediately decide whether to accept it.

"I doubt that they will debate this law as they have other things on their minds," said a Belgian official in London.

MPs had been expected to pass a law today that would have made Belgium the first European country to ban the wearing of the burqa, which covers the face and body, or the niqab, which covers the face.

The bill, which has been criticised by human rights campaigners as a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of religion, was approved unanimously by the lower chamber's home affairs committee last month.

The law would make it a crime to be in a public place with one's face partially or wholly concealed in a way that would make identification impossible. Violators would be subject to a fine of €15-€25 (£12-£21) with a possible prison sentence of one to seven days.

There are no official statistics on how many women wear face-covering veils, though analysts agree it is a marginal phenomenon among the roughly 400,000 Muslims living in Belgium (about 4% of the country's population). In 2009, 29 women were stopped by police in eight municipalities in the Brussels region that already ban the full Muslim veil.

Voice of Russia, Guradian

No comments: