staff and news service reports
updated 5/18/2010 12:25:33 PM ET 2010-05-18T16:25:33

As France moves toward a controversial ban on women wearing burqas, tension over the issue triggered a scuffle in a clothing store in the south of the country when one shopper allegedly ripped off a Muslim woman's Islamic veil, local media reported.

Both women were walking through the shop in Trignac, near Nantes, when the 26-year-old Muslim convert said she heard someone making "snide remarks about her black burqa." An argument broke out before the other woman, a 60-year-old lawyer, then ripped the veil off, according to Britain's Daily Telegraph.

Saturday's altercation comes as France, among other European countries, is weighing a ban that could go into effect as early as the fall.

The Telegraph, which described the altercation as "burqa rage," quoted a police officer close to the case as saying, "The lawyer said she was not happy seeing a fellow shopper wearing a veil and wanted the ban introduced as soon as possible."

According to Europe 1 news, the lawyer made the comment to her daughter, with whom she was shopping. As the fighting escalated in the clothing store, the lawyer's daughter also allegedly joined in. A store employee and the Muslim woman's husband stepped in to break up the fight, Europe 1 reported.

All three women were arrested.

A Trignac police department spokesman said the department had received two complaints in the case: The Muslim woman accuses the lawyer of racial and religious assault, and the Muslim woman has been accused of common assault by the lawyer, various media outlets reported. The names of those involved have not been released.

Belgium has already passed a law banning face-covering Islamic dress. On Sunday, Muslims attending a conference in Vienna criticized European countries for considering the ban, saying it is counterproductive and regressive.

Talk of a ban has aggravated racial tensions in France, which is home to about five million Muslims.

On May 11, French lawmakers unanimously passed a resolution asserting that face-covering Muslim veils are contrary to the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity on which France is founded.

The non-binding resolution, passed 434 to 0, lays the groundwork for a planned law forbidding face-covering veils in public, including in the streets.

One lawmaker compared women who fully cover themselves to "phantoms" and "walking coffins."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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