'Burkini' row shuts pools in French town
The two municipal swimming pools in the southeast French city of Grenoble have been shut down, despite the current heatwave, after a row over the use of full-body Islamic burkini swimsuit, the local mayor said on Wednesday.
On Sunday and last month, Muslim women clad in burkinis went to swim in the pools at the initiative of the Alliance Citoyenne rights group, despite a municipal ban on the full-body swimwear.
The lifeguards at the pools asked for the shutdown because "they are there to maintain safety and they can't do that when they have to worry about the crowds," generated by the controversial swimsuits, the town hall said in a statement. "We are working towards a positive solution" to the problem, it added.
The row is the latest in France over face- and body-covering garments worn by Muslim women, which many perceive as subjugating women in a country with strict laws on secularism.
France – the country with Europe's largest Muslim population – was the first European country to ban the full-veil in public spaces in 2011. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban in 2014, rejecting arguments that outlawing full-face veils breached religious freedom.
Earlier this year French sports retailer Decathlon was forced to back down from a plan to sell a runner's hijab in France after coming under fire.
Far-right politicians expressed their opposition to the burkini on Monday the day after the event in Grenoble.
Seven burkini-clad women, accompanied by activists, went to the Grenoble pools on Sunday demanding the right to bathe despite the facility's rules. They said the ban was discrimination.
The women want the public pools, which currently require men to wear swim briefs and women to wear bikinis or one-piece swimsuits, to change their regulations to accommodate burkini wearers.
Local member of parliament Eric Ciotti, of the rightwing Republicans party, said on Twitter that the burkini "has no place in France where women are equal to men." But the Alliance Citoyenne likened the women's action to that of U.S. civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
The burkini was at the centre of a standoff in several French seaside towns three years ago – some towns banned the garment, claiming it was a security threat, only to have the bans later overturned in court. (AFP)