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Macron says enforcement of abaya ban in French school will be ‘uncompromising’

French authorities will be “uncompromising” in their enforcement of a new ban on abayas in schools, French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday, following the decision to ban the robe-like garment in the upcoming academic year.

The ban, which was announced by France’s education minister, is the latest in a series of contentious restrictions in the country on clothing associated with Muslims. It was criticized by a number of opposition lawmakers, including Danièle Obono, who called it a “new Islamophobic campaign.”

Speaking to journalists after visiting a professional school in the Vaucluse region of southern France on Friday, Macron doubled down on the decision.

He reiterated that “religious symbols of any kind have no place” in French schools under the country’s principle of “laïcité,” which translates roughly to “secularism” in English.

“Schools in our country are secular, free, and compulsory. But they are secular. Because this is the very condition that makes citizenship possible and therefore religious symbols of any kind have no place in them. And we will vigorously defend this secularism,” Macron remarked.

Teachers and heads of French schools “will not be left alone” when it comes to enforcing the ban, Macron said, adding that French authorities will be “uncompromising on this subject.”

“And in high schools or colleges which are the most sensitive, specific staff will be sent alongside the heads of establishments and teachers to support them and to engage in a necessary dialogue with families and students. But we won’t let anything pass,” he added.

France has pursued a series of controversial bans and restrictions on items of customarily Islamic dress in recent years, which have frequently drawn the ire of Muslim countries and international agencies.

Last year lawmakers backed a ban on wearing the hijab and other “conspicuous religious symbols” in sports competitions. The amendment was proposed by the right-wing Les Républicains party, which argued the hijab could risk the safety of athletes wearing it while playing sports.

France’s earlier ban on the niqab – full-face veils worn by some Muslim women – violated the human rights of those who wore it, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said in 2018.

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