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France seeks to woo Islamic finance

world Updated: Sep 27, 2009 12:34 IST
AFP
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As France debates whether to ban the burqa, the government is leading a drive to attract billions in investment from Muslim countries by turning Paris into the European capital of Islamic finance.

The French parliament this month has approved changes to legislation to allow Islamic "sukuk" bonds to be issued and the Qatar Islamic Bank has applied to be the first such bank to open in France.

Home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority, France is hoping to unseat London as the European hub for Islamic banking, offering products that comply with Sharia law and meet the needs of big investors mostly from Gulf countries.

But the drive is raising hackles, with some opposition politicians accusing the government of undermining France's much prized secularism to accommodate wealthy interests.

"When rich Muslims are concerned, we welcome them. But when they are poor, we put them on planes and deport them. This is all very upsetting," said Socialist deputy Henri Emmanuelli.

After failing to garner enough votes to derail the bill, the Socialist opposition is challenging the legality of the new legislation on Islamic finance before the Constitutional Council.

"We must not allow principles of Sharia law, or the ethics of the Koran to be introduced into French law," said Emmanuelli.