Belgium officially bans the burqa

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A law banning the burqa, the veil that entirely covering a woman's face except for the eyes, will become effective in Belgium as of 23 July, after it was published in the country's official journal.

Failure to comply with the law is punishable by up to seven days of imprisonment and a fine of 137,50 euro.

According to estimates, some 270 women in Belgium wear the burqua. Belgium is the second EU country after France to have effectively banned the burqa.

The law was backed at first reading in April 2010, but the second-reading vote was postponed as a consequence of the fall of the Belgian government and early elections held in June 2010. Belgium is still being governed by a caretaker cabinet.

Before the second-reading vote, the debate in the Belgian Parliament appeared less heated than it had been in 2010, French daily Le Figaro reported.

According to its supporters, the bill is intended to promote women's rights and prevent a split between the Islamic community and the rest of Belgian society.

However, most Belgian Muslims see the measure as discriminatory and feel that their entire community is being stigmatised, rather than the very few women who wear the burqa.

Critics argue that it could violate EU law on freedom of expression and say the bill could be challenged before the European Court of Human Rights.

France banned the burqa in September 2010 and enacted the law on 11 April 2011.

Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg two days later, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused France of violating freedom of religion.

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