Bernard Cazeneuve.jpg
Photograph: EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Monday slammed controversial plans to ban the burkini, a full-body swimsuit designed for Muslim women, as "unconstitutional."

A nationwide burkini ban, sought by France's conservative opposition, would be "unconstitutional, ineffective and would evoke antagonisms and irreparable tensions," Cazeneuve told the Catholic newspaper La Croix.

France's highest administrative court, the Council of State, on Friday overturned a ban on the burkini on the beaches of the southern town of Villeneuve-Loubet, a landmark decision that set a precedent for dozens of other seaside towns.

The court decision prompted right-wing politicians to demand that parliament impose a nationwide ban on the burkini, which they see as a symbol of radical Islam.

Later Monday, Cazeneuve met with representatives of France's Muslim community amid tensions in the country following a spate of Islamist terrorist attacks, which has created a backlash that equality activists claim unfairly targets the Muslim community.

"We need an Islam that stands with both feet in the republic," the minister said following the talks.

In a bid to prevent radicalization, he announced the establishment of a foundation to offer new funding avenues for constructing mosques and training imams in the French language.

Some 30 communities have imposed burkini bans on their beaches this summer after an attack on France's National Day in July by a radical Islamist who deliberately drove a cargo truck into a crowd in the Mediterranean city of Nice, killing 86 people.

Critics say the move is discriminatory, while proponents claim that the swimwear poses a threat to security.

The French constitution is secular and prohibits religious displays in public institutions. Parliament voted in 2010 to ban clothing that covers the face, effectively outlawing strict Islamic clothing such as the burqa and niqab.

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