Thu, Jul 02, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Sweden to downplay burqa issue during EU presidency

AP AND REUTERS , STOCKHOLM AND RABAT

Sweden assumes the presidency of the EU pushing for adoption of common rules on immigration but tiptoeing around the discussion about banning burqas and other Islamic garments.

The 27-nation EU must not dictate an Islamic dress code, Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask said on Tuesday, adding that “the European Union is a union of freedom.”

The influx of Muslim immigrants has stirred debate in European countries about the wearing of headscarves and full-body robes in public places. French President Nicolas Sarkozy two weeks ago told lawmakers that the all-covering burqa would not be welcome in France.

Ask said Sweden will not raise that debate to an EU level, because it has “enough to do” in its six-month stint in charge of the presidency, which started yesterday.

“I don’t think it is a question for the European Union,” she told reporters in Stockholm. “I think we leave that for local politicians.”

A key priority for Sweden, which has been a top European destination for refugees from Iraq and Somalia, is to get broad support from its partners for common immigration and asylum rules. Those issues remain largely national responsibilities as governments are wary of ceding authority in justice matters to the EU.

Ask and Swedish Migration Minister Tobias Billstrom said legal immigration is key to growth and prosperity in the EU whose population is aging fast.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s north African wing threatened revenge against France for launching a “war” against Muslim women who wear full burqas or niqab that cover them from head to toe, a Web statement posted in the group’s name said.

“Here is France mustering all her capacity, mobilizing all her institutions and organizing her ranks to wage a perfidious new war against our sisters who wear the niqab,” said the statement posted on a Web site used by al-Qaeda supporters.

It said France’s campaign against the burqa was tantamount to “religious terrorism.”

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