Brussels: Belgian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to ban the wearing of Islamic burqa in public, paving the way for the first clampdown of its kind in Europe.
In the lower house of federal Parliament, 136 deputies voted to ban nationwide clothes or veils that do not allow the wearer to be fully identified, including the full-face niqab and burqa.
There were two abstentions. No one voted against.
The ban will be imposed in streets, public gardens and sports grounds or buildings "meant for public use or to provide services" to the public, according to the text of the bill.
Exceptions could be allowed for certain festivities like carnivals if municipal authorities decide to grant them.
People who ignore the new law could face a fine of EUR 15-25 (USD 20-34) and/or a jail sentence of up to seven days, unless they have police permission to wear the garments.
All governing parties and the opposition agreed on the move -- most on the basis that people cannot be recognised wearing the clothing -- but the upper house of Parliament has two weeks to raise any objections to the decision.
"It`s not about introducing any form of discrimination," Daniel Bacquelaine, head of the liberal MR party in the house, told the lawmakers, but for cases when such clothing was "aimed at stopping people from being identified”.