Switzerland is on course to follow France, Belgium and Austria after narrowly voting in a referendum to ban women from wearing the burqa or niqab in public spaces.
With 99% of the vote counted, 51.5% of Swiss voters had cast their votes in favour of the initiative to ban people from covering their face completely on the street, in shops and restaurants.
Full facial veils will still be allowed to be worn inside places of prayer and for “native customs”, such as carnival.
Face coverings worn for health and safety reasons are also exempt from the ban, meaning face masks worn because of the Covid-19 pandemic will not be affected by the new law.
Switzerland’s parliament and the seven-member executive council that constitutes the country’s federal government opposed the referendum proposal.
They argued that full facial veils represented a “fringe phenomenon”, and instead proposed an initiative that would force people to lift their facial coverings when asked to confirm their identity to officials.
Muslim groups have criticized the ban. “This is clearly an attack against the Muslim community in Switzerland. What is aimed here is to stigmatize and marginalize Muslims even more,” said Ines Al Shikh, a member of Les Foulards Violets, a Muslim feminist collective.
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