updated 9/8/2004 8:34:50 AM ET 2004-09-08T12:34:50

Some 100 to 120 girls have defied a new law banning Islamic head scarves in classrooms and are in talks with school officials trying to convince them to remove the head coverings, Education Minister Francois Fillon said Wednesday.

It was the first complete figure made public since the start of the school year last Thursday.

When classes resumed a week ago, Fillon cited 70 cases of defiance but that did not take into account a batch of students returning to school for the first time on Friday.

“I think we’ll end up convincing the quasi-totality of these young girls,” Fillon said in an interview on Europe-1 radio.

The law, which forbids conspicuous religious symbols and apparel in public schools, calls for a period of dialogue for those who fail to comply. If students do not agree to follow the new law during the discussions, which can last several weeks, measures are taken to expel them.

While the law targets Muslim head scarves, it also forbids Jewish skull caps and large Christian crosses in classrooms.

While France’s tiny Sikh community was left out of the debate before the law was passed in March, five Sikh students who wear turbans were forbidden to attend classes when schools opened last week, according to officials in the Sikh and education communities.

The law is meant to bring France’s increasingly vocal Muslim population, estimated at 5 million, into line with its cherished principle of secularism.

There are some 5,000-7,000 Sikhs in France.

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