Belgium vote to ban burka is scuppered at last minute as government collapses
23rd April 2010
A law making Belgium Europe’s first country to ban the burka was scuppered at the last moment yesterday after the collapse of the coalition government.
MPs were hours from voting on proposals to outlaw full face veils when parliament was thrown into disarray with the resignation of prime minister Yves Leterme after only five months in office.
He pulled his Open VLD party out of the five-party coalition in a dispute over electoral boundaries.
Leterme, 49, called an emergency meeting of his cabinet early today afternoon to inform ministers that his second term in office was at an end, and left for the royal palace to tender his government's resignation to King Albert.
The collapse prevented MPs from voting on a proposed law would mean women could be jailed for up to seven days for hiding their faces.
The legislation - which has widespread support among MPs - would have meant burkas, niqabs and other Islamic full face veils would be outlawed from public places.
The vote had been set to come a day after French president Nicolas Sarkozy said France would also vote on a ban.
His spokesman Luc Chatel said MPs would debate the proposal in mid-May, and if passed the garb could be outlawed in France by June.
In Belgium, the draft law had the backing of all five parties in the nation's coalition government - until it fell apart today.
Without the backing of the centre-right Open VLD, the remaining four parties in government still have 76 of the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament but it would be hard to govern with such a slim majority.
Open VLD said it had lost confidence in the government because of its failure to resolve a dispute between French- and Dutch-speaking parties over electoral boundaries around the capital, Brussels.
Economists have expressed concern that political paralysis would harm the prospects of reducing Belgium's budget deficit, which the government has forecast will be 4.8 per cent of gross domestic product in 2010.
Leterme became prime minister for a second time last November when Herman Van Rompuy left the post to become president of the European Union.
Even at the start of his second term political and economic analysts had warned that it could prove as unstable as his first nine months in power in 2008, when Belgium lurched from one crisis to another.
Belgium, home to European Union institutions and the NATO military alliance, can ill afford to let domestic problems drag on as in July it takes over the six-month EU presidency, an organisational role held by each member state in turn.
The future of the controversial burkha ban is now in doubt - but support for it among MPs remained widespread.
Centre-right MP Daniel Bacquelaine said: 'The notion of recognising people in the street is essential to maintain public order. 'It's also a question of human dignity. The full face veil turns a woman into a walking prison, and we have widespread cross-party support to have this item outlawed.'
Leen Dierick, of the Belgian parliament's interior affairs committee, said: 'There is all-party public support for this. 'The point is not outlawing religious freedom, but public security and the need to show one's face in public.'
Belgain daily Le Soir said under the proposed law, women would be fined £110 for the first offence of wearing a burqa. But if they refused to pay or were caught a second time, they would be jailed for a week.
There is also widespread support for a ban on burquas and niqabs in the Netherlands.
In Switzerland, the construction of minarets was recently banned.
In France, immigration minister Eric Besson has branded the garment a 'walking coffin'. President Sarkozy said last year described burkas as a 'sign of debasement, adding: 'They make women prisoners and deprive them of their identity.'
And they (disbelievers) plotted/planned, and Allâh planned too. And Allâh is the Best of the planners.
(Aali Imran 3:54)