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French Muslims fear renewed stigmatization in burkini ban

PARIS (Reuters) - French Muslims are concerned that decisions taken by some municipal authorities to ban the burkini could lead to further stigmatization of Muslims, the head of a body representing Muslims in France said on Wednesday.

A Muslim woman wears a burkini, a swimsuit that leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, on a beach in Marseille, France, August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

Pictures on the internet show a woman seated on the beach in the resort of Nice taking off the top of the body-covering swimwear apparently at the request of three police officers standing over her. Reports said she was fined.

Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of Muslim Faith said after meeting Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve that there was growing concern especially among French Muslim women over the ban.

“This is creating emotion and anxiety among Muslims in France and beyond,” Kbibech said after the meeting.

France’s highest administrative court, Conseil d’Etat, will meet on Thursday to consider a complaint against the ban taken by one of the municipalities.

President Francois Hollande’s government has backed the decisions taken by mostly conservative mayors to impose the ban, arguing that the burkini violates French laws on secularism.

Cazeneuve said the decision to ban the swimwear must be proportionate and should not lead to stigmatization or the pitting of one French community against another.

The burkini debate is particularly sensitive in France given deadly attacks by Islamist militants, including bombings and shootings in Paris which killed 130 people last November, which have raised tensions between communities and made people wary of being in public places. nL8N1B52NE

A senior government official said authorities must be cautious and not exacerbate existing tensions as seen in Nice where a militant deliberately drove a truck into a festive crowd on July 14, killing more than 80 people.

“We have several million Muslims in France who are mostly moderates or non-practicing. If they feel that it is the only subject in public debate they won’t feel at home and will be tempted to withdraw to their communities,” the official said.

Reporting by Chine Labbe, Bate Felix and John Irish; Editing by Richard Balmforth