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France backs school head scarf ban

From CNN Paris Correspondent Jim Bittermann

A girl protests in Toulouse, France, against the proposed ban.
A girl protests in Toulouse, France, against the proposed ban.

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France approves the controversial ban on religious symbols.
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Jacques Chirac

PARIS, France (CNN) -- The French National Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a proposed controversial ban on Muslim headscarves and other "conspicuous" religious symbols in French schools.

The vote was 494 in favor and 36 opposed, giving President Jacques Chirac a victory. The measure now has to go to the Senate.

While there is a great deal of countrywide support for the government-backed ban, many others oppose it, saying it could lead to more problems than it will solve.

Public opinion polls indicate about 70 percent of the French are in favor of the measure. And even in the French Muslim community, Muslim women favor a ban 49 percent to 43 percent.

Chirac's ruling party controls about two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly. There has been prolonged debate about the legislation, and over the last few days a number of compromises were worked out with the opposition Socialists.

One compromise agreed to is a review of the law after a year.

There have been many complaints outside France, and not only from Muslims, who say the ban is discriminatory.

Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin is on his way later this week to India, where he could hear concern about how the law would apply to Sikh head turbans.

Opponents say the ban is discriminatory and likely to stigmatize France's 5 million Muslims -- the largest population in Western Europe.

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