A mayor on the French island of Corsica on Monday became the third nation to announce a ban on burqinis, following weekend clashes allegedly sparked by a row over the full-body Islamic swimsuit.
The announcement by the mayor of the village of Sisco follows similar prohibitions in the Riviera towns of Cannes and Villeneuve-Loubet, which have also controversially banned the garment from their beaches in recent weeks.
Sisco’s Socialist mayor Ange-Pierre Vivoni said he aimed to “protect the population” after clashes on Saturday in a cove outside his village in the north of the Mediterranean island that left five people injured.
Around 100 police were deployed to break up the fight between locals and families of North African origin that reportedly began over tourists taking pictures of women swimming in burqinis.
Three cars were set alight after the rivals, some of whom were armed with hatchets, hurled stones and bottles. Five people were hospitalised.
Vivoni said his decision to ban the burqini was “not against the Muslim religion but to avoid the spread of fundamentalism.”
“I am absolutely not racist. I want to protect the population, notably my area’s Muslim population, because I think that they are the main victims of these extremist provocations.”
The move comes at a highly sensitive time for relations with France’s Muslim community following a series of jihadist attacks, mostly by young French acolytes of the Islamic State group.
Prosecutors in nearby Bastia said an inquiry had been opened to determine the cause of the weekend violence.
Vivoni said tensions over religion had been building in northern Corsica for a while.
There were tense scenes Sunday as around 500 nationalists gathered in the northeastern town of Bastia, seeking to enter the Lupino district which is home to a large North African community.
The police blocked them from entering.
Last month, a splinter group of the nationalist Corsican National Liberation Front (FLNC) warned Islamists that any attack on the island would trigger “a determined response, without any qualms”.
The question of Islamic dress has long been a hot-button issue in France, which was the first European country to ban the full-face veil in public places in 2010.
Opponents of the burqini argue it tramples secular values.
Anti-racism campaigners saying banning it amounts to discrimination against Muslims.
Women’s Rights Minister Laurence Rossignol said the burqini, which has also been a talking point at the Rio Olympics where it has been sported by several athletes, was “profoundly archaic”.
“The burqini has a goal. The goal is to hide women’s bodies to hide women...there is something profoundly archaic about it,” she told Europe 1 radio.
But she also warned against the “ulterior motives” of some in the conservative opposition whom she accused of stoking debates about burqinis and halal meat to try win votes from the far-right National Front.
Rossignol did not say where she stood on banning the garment.
France is on high alert after two grisly attacks in the last month claimed by, or carried out in the name of Islamic State, which was also behind November’s coordinated assaults in Paris.
On July 14, a Tunisian father of three ploughed a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day, killing 85 people.
Two weeks later, two teens claiming allegiance to IS killed a priest by slitting his throat.
The burqini ban in Cannes won court backing on Saturday, with a judge ruling the garment could be seen as a provocation after the Nice attack.
In the nearby resort of Villeneuve-Loubet, mayor Lionnel Luca has defended the ban by saying it is unhygienic to swim fully dressed.