Who would have thought that Belgium would be one of the nations leading the way in ridding Western countries of this odious outfit? Standing ovation to the Belgian parliament. Now for any 'ifs' to be eradicated and the new legislation to become the law of the land and ENFORCED.
By Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 12:12 PM on 30th April 2010
Banned: A woman wears a burka in Brussels, but she could be jailed if a new law is brought in later this year
Belgium became the first European country to impose a full ban on wearing a burka last night.
Its parliament approved a draft law which states women can be jailed for hiding their faces in public.
The bill - which must be rubber-stamped by the Belgian senate - is set to become law by July.
Centre-Right MP Daniel Bacquelaine said last night: '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.'
The ground-breaking legislation comes just ten days after an earlier vote on banning the burka was scuppered by the collapse of the country's parliament and resignation of its prime minister, Yves Leterme.
Despite the political turmoil, MPs in the fragile five-party coalition managed to push through the controversial law yesterday evening.
It means anyone will be banned from covering their face in a public place, including the street, shops, offices, schools and hospitals.
Women will be fined £110 for the first offence.
If they refuse to pay or are caught a second time, they can be jailed for a week. It is estimated up to 400 of the country's 280,000 Muslims wear the burka in public.
The move comes as other countries consider bringing in similar legislation. There is widespread support for a ban on burkas, or full face veils, and niqabs, which cover the head and face but leave the eyes visible, in the Netherlands.
In Switzerland, voters recently supported a ban on the construction of new minarets, while France is preparing to vote in July on its own law banning Islamic headwear.
Under French proposals, women would be fined up to £600 for hiding their faces, and be 'unveiled' at a police station so they could be identified.
Husband who forced their wives to wear burkas would be sent to prison.
Jean-Francois Cope, president of France's ruling UMP party, said this week: 'The prime minister has told us the new law on wearing burkas would be adopted by mid-September.
'A recent survey found 70 per cent of French people are opposed to the wearing of full face veils in public.'
Despite widespread support for a ban, France's highest legal body, the Council of State, has warned any law could be overturned by EU human rights laws.
Belgium's law could also be challenged by the same legislation.