Paris: Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has labelled the full-body burkini swimsuits worn by some Muslim women a "provocation" that supports radicalised Islam, amid a heated debate over a ban on the swimwear in France.
In an interview to Le Figero Magazine, Sarkozy said: "Wearing a burkini is a political act, it's militant, a provocation," the Independent reported on Thursday.
"If we do not put an end to this, there is a risk that in 10 years, young Muslim girls who do not want to wear the veil or burkini will be stigmatised and peer-pressured," Sarkozy added.
Nice is the most recent French resort to ban the burkini worn by Muslim women, following bans in the Corsican town of Disco, and the Riviera resorts of Cannes and Villeneuve-Loubet.
In recent days, several women were fined in France for wearing the burkini.
Spiralling into the debate, Sarkozy said the country should not "imprison women behind fabric", adding that "doing nothing" against the burkini would "suggest France appears weak", Le Point reported.
The bans were set to be scrutinised by France's State Council, the country's highest administrative court, after human rights groups challenged the burkini ban.
A group called the Human Rights League (LDH) was appealing a decision by a lower court in Nice, which upheld the burkin ban by the town of Villeneuve-Loubet.
The LDH said the ban is a "serious and illegal attack on numerous fundamental rights", including freedom of religion.
Meanwhile, Sarkozy's controversial comments on the burkini earned a sharp rebuke from the woman who created the burkini -- the Lebanese born Australian designer Aheda Zanetti.
"I truly, truly believe that the French have misunderstood and that they don't know what a burkini looks like and what it represents," the Guardian quoted Zanetti as saying.
"For someone to bring out a statement like that on a piece of clothing that is about joy ... he doesn't know what he is talking about. He needs to go to the beach and maybe ask, what is a burkini swimsuit? Burkini is just a word that describes a full cover swimsuit and it doesn't symbolise anything to do with Muslims. It's about encouraging our kids and children to learn how to swim," Zanetti added.
Controversy over burkini bans heightened on Tuesday after photographs emerged showing four police officers armed with handguns, batons and pepper spray undressing a burkini-clad Muslim woman publicly in Nice.
France has also banned the wearing of burqua in public places for security reasons.