Bulgaria’s parliament has approved a law banning women from wearing veils that cover their faces in public.
The law was pushed by the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition, whose co-leader Krasimir Karakachanov cited security reasons, saying “the burqa is more a uniform than a religious symbol.”
The ban will apply for both Bulgarian citizens and those entering the country temporarily.
The new law states that clothing that conceals the face may not be worn in the institutions of Bulgaria’s central and local administrations, schools, cultural institutions, and places of public recreation, sports and communications.
The covering of the head, eyes, ears and mouth will only be permitted for health reasons, professional necessity and at sporting and cultural events.
The ban will also apply to houses of worship, such as mosques, which probably won’t go down well with Bulgaria’s 580,000 Muslim minority who make up around 8% of the population.
Krasimir Velchev, a senior lawmaker for the ruling GERB party, said: “The law is not directed against religious communities and is not repressive. We made a very good law for the safety of our children.”
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The law was opposed by the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the third-largest party in parliament, which has a substantial Muslim electorate. In protest, the group walked out of the chamber.
Women who violate the ban face fines of up to 770 euros (£665), as well as a suspension of social benefits.
Bulgaria forms part of the migrant route from Turkey to mainland Europe as the two countries share 260km border although Bulgarian authorities erected a 146km long fence to block their entry last year.
Many Bulgarians fear that the migrant inflows into Europe could threaten its dominant Orthodox Christian culture and help radicalise part of the country’s long-established Muslim minority.