Despite a negative opinion given by France's highest administrative court, the Conseil d'etat, to the effect that banning the burqa, the niqab or other full facial covering would violate the Constitution, the French government is determined to push ahead with legislation outlawing the garment.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon told reporters late on Wednesday that his government had decided “it is time the courts and public opinion evolved to keep in touch with changed circumstances”.

His government planned to ban the burqa on the basis of equality between men and women and the dignity of human beings, said Mr. Fillon. The burqa being a garment that symbolised the subjugation of women, the government was determined to ban its wearing in public places, despite advice to the contrary from the Conseil d'etat and warnings from Human Rights organisations.

Luc Chatel, a spokesman for President Sarkozy said the government would introduce legislation in May and would seek to ban the niqab and the burqa from streets, shops and markets and not just from public buildings.

Most Muslim women, in France's immigrant communities and around the world, do not wear a full veil, but the niqab, which covers the face apart from the eyes, is widely worn on the Arabian peninsular and in the Gulf states.

“We're legislating for the future,” government spokesman Luc Chatel told reporters after a Cabinet meeting chaired by Mr. Sarkozy. “Wearing a full veil is a sign of a community closing in on itself and of a rejection of our values,” he added.

Human Rights Watch warned against such legislation. “Bans like this lead to a lose-lose situation," Judith Sunderland, its senior Western Europe researcher told AP.

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