FEB 2, 2004 MON
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French Sikhs march for right to wear turbans

Sikhs from across Europe converge on Paris in support

PARIS - A Paris boulevard became a sea of coloured turbans on Saturday, as Sikhs from across Europe marched to defend their traditional headgear against a proposed law banning religious symbols from French schools.

A proposed ban on religious symbols in French schools brought Sikhs onto the street calling for an exemption. -- REUTERS

The law, due to be introduced in Parliament this week, will ban all 'conspicuous signs' of faith, such as Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses in the strictly secular public schools.

The 2,000 Sikhs, coming from all over Europe, marched under banners in French, English, German and Punjabi calling for turbans to be exempted from this ban.

Sikhs, of whom about 5,000 live in the Paris area, say turbans and the scarves women wear are not religious, but a practical way to cover the hair they never cut.

Simran Singh, 14, said: 'My great-grandfather fought to save France in the First World War.'

He was wearing his ancestor's campaign medals and carrying a poster showing Sikhs with the British Army in France in both world wars.

Mr Gurcharan Singh, mayor of the London borough of Ealing, and Indian MP Sardar Simranjit Singh Mann also joined the protest.

Officials have not said if the turban would be banned under the law due to be applied in state primary and secondary schools from September. Private schools will not be covered.

Although the ban is aimed at all religious signs, French officials say it is needed to stem a wave of militancy among a minority of France's five million Muslims.

Several protests have also been held by Muslims in France against the ban against headscarves. -- Reuters, AFP, AP

 

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