THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch government announced plans Friday to introduce a limited ban on "face-covering clothing," widely interpreted as a new attempt to outlaw burqas, the head-to-toe Islamic robe worn by only a few hundred women in this European nation of 17 million.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his ruling coalition has drawn up a proposal aimed at banning people from wearing clothing that obscures the face on public transport and in schools, government buildings and medical institutions. The proposal will be sent to a panel of legal advisers for assessment. The panel, the Council of State, was heavily critical in 2012 of an attempt by the government to ban burqas, saying it breached religious freedom provisions in the Dutch constitution.
Rutte insisted the latest move is not targeting any particular religious group and will not go as far as the earlier attempt at a general ban on burqas.
"It has nothing to do with religion or what people do in their own homes," he said.
Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk said people "can still walk along the street in a burqa," but added they would have to remove it to get onto a bus.
France in 2011 became the first country in Europe to enact a law forbidding face-covering veils anywhere in public.
The Dutch Muslim women's organization Al Nisa, which has lobbied against any kind of burqa ban, saying the proposal is not tackling a serious problem in society but reacting to fears.
"Fear that threatens to manifest itself against anything that we find different or strange," the group said in a statement. "And that while the Netherlands was known for her tolerance and level-headedness."