The Dutch government, facing re-election, said on Friday it plans to draw up legislation "as soon as possible" banning burqas and other clothing that covers a person's entire face in public places.
"The Cabinet finds it undesirable that face-covering clothing, including the burqa is worn in public places for reasons of public order, security and protection of citizens," Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk said in a statement.
Basing the order on security concerns apparently was intended to respond to warnings that outlawing clothing like the burqa, could violate the constitutional guarantee against religious discrimination.
In the past, a majority of the Dutch parliament has said it would approve a ban on burqas, but opinion polls in advance of national elections next Wednesday suggested a shift to the left, and it is unclear if a majority in the new parliament would still back the ban.
Once the Cabinet drafts a bill, it is sent to the 150-member legislature for enactment.
The main Dutch Muslim organization CMO has been critical of any possible ban. The idea was "an overreaction to a very marginal problem" because hardly any Dutch women wear burqas anyway, said Ayhan Tonca of the CMO. "It's just ridiculous."
Around 1 million Muslims live in the Netherlands, about 6 per cent of the 16 million population, but only a few hundred are believed to regularly wear a burqa.
After France banned the wearing of headscarves in public schools, the Dutch government decided to leave that question up to individual schools.