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France nears ban on Islamic facial veils

A woman who gave her name as Najat talks to reporters about the proposed ban on facial veils in Montreuil, east of Paris, in May.

Associated Press

A woman who gave her name as Najat talks to reporters about the proposed ban on facial veils in Montreuil, east of Paris, in May.

Senator says keep gay survey private

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that the Pentagon survey of military personnel about gays in the armed services should be kept secret. The Pentagon commissioned the survey to determine what, if any, changes would be made in military rules if Congress changes the law to allow gays to serve openly.

Several gay rights groups have said the survey is biased and apt to fan fears of gays in the military. Levin said he was okay with the 103-question survey, but "it was intended to be a private survey, and it ought to stay that way."

Mystery deaths tied to mushrooms

Every summer during the height of the rainy season, villagers of all ages in a corner of southwestern China would suddenly die of cardiac arrest. No one knew what caused Yunnan Sudden Death Syndrome, blamed for an estimated 400 deaths in the past three decades.

After a five-year investigation, an elite unit from China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention believes it has pinpointed the cause: an innocuous-looking small mushroom known as Little White. A public information campaign to warn against eating the mushrooms has dramatically reduced the number of deaths, with none so far this year, though the mystery has not yet been definitively solved.

Times wires

France nears ban on Islamic facial veils

$13M

Amount 168 congressional employees who faced harassment or discrimination collected in taxpayer-financed settlements since 1997, the Congressional Office of Compliance reported Tuesday. The office was established in 1995.

The French Parliament's lower house enacted a sweeping but constitutionally vulnerable law Tuesday barring women from wearing full-face Islamic veils anywhere in public.

The National Assembly voted 335-1 for the measure, which is expected to pass easily in the Senate in September. If ratified, the law will make France the second Western European nation after Belgium to ban outright what has become the most prominent symbol of the growing Muslim presence across a continent steeped in traditions of secularism and Christianity.

Similar laws have been discussed, but not passed, in Spain, Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands. In addition, a number of European cities have enacted municipal bans, prohibiting the veils in public buildings and imposing other restrictions.

The legislation imposes a $185 fine or citizenship lessons — or both — on women caught outside their homes wearing the full-face coverings known as burqas and niqabs. It sets a fine of $38,000 and a one-year prison term for anyone convicted of forcing women and girls to wear such veils, reflecting a widely shared conviction in France that Muslim women are forced to cover their faces by their fathers or husbands.

Before going into effect, legislators decided, the law will be submitted to the Constitutional Council, France's highest tribunal, to determine whether it is compatible with constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. The Council of State, a prestigious advisory body, has already warned that an outright ban would be vulnerable to a challenge on constitutional grounds.

France's main Muslim organizations, while denouncing the veils as out of place in Europe, have expressed concern that the legislation is likely to encourage discrimination against Muslims.

Washington Post

France nears ban on Islamic facial veils 07/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 10:57pm]

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