MADRID Barcelona on Monday became the first big city in predominantly Catholic Spain to forbid full face veils in public buildings such as markets and libraries.
Full veils are banned in all public spaces in small towns Lerida and El Vendrell, which like Barcelona are in the northeastern region of Catalonia.
"Barcelona will forbid the use of the burqa, niqab and any other item which hinders personal identification in any of the city's public installations," a statement from the Barcelona municipal government said.
The French cabinet approved a bill last month to outlaw the wearing of niqabs and burqas in public, and Belgium's lower house has voted in favor of prohibiting the full veil, provoking strong reaction and stoking debate across Europe.
Barcelona Mayor Jordi Hereu resisted calls to impose a ban on full face veils in all public spaces in Spain's second-largest city because he said it was outside the jurisdiction of a municipal government.
"The use of the burqa and niqab undermines the dignity and freedom of women," Alberto Fernandez, a Barcelona city councilor for the conservative Popular Party (PP), said on his website.
"The mayoral decree is a half-measure, because as well as forbidding the burqa and niqab in public installations, it is necessary to forbid it on the street," he added.
The Barcelona ban is due to take effect after the summer.
Spain was partly ruled by Islamic Moors from the 8th to the 15th centuries and had around 1.4 million Muslims in 2009 -- about 3 percent of the population -- according to the Islamic Commission of Spain.
In a recent controversy, a young woman in Madrid changed schools after refusing to remove her Islamic headscarf when the institute where she was studying enforced its rule banning the wearing of head coverings.
(Reporting by Raquel Castillo; Writing by Martin Roberts)