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RELIGION

France’s top court blocks wearing of ‘burkini’ in Grenoble swimming pools

The French city of Grenoble cannot go ahead with plans to allow the "burkini" full-body swimming costume at its municipal pools, the country's top administrative court ruled on Tuesday.

France's top court blocks wearing of 'burkini' in Grenoble swimming pools
The full-body 'burkini' swimsuit. Photo by MOHD RASFAN / AFP

Upholding a challenge by the national government against the move, which renewed France’s intense debate on Islam, the Council of State said that “very selective exception to the rules to satisfy religious demands… risks affecting the proper functioning of public services and equal treatment of their users”.

The all-in-one swimsuit, used by some Muslim women to cover their bodies and hair while bathing, is a controversial issue in France where critics see it as a symbol of creeping Islamisation.

Led by Green party mayor Eric Piolle, the city of Grenoble in May changed its swimming pool rules to allow all types of bathing suits, not just traditional swimming costumes for women and trunks for men, which were mandated before. Women were also permitted to swim topless.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle said at the time.

Tuesday’s court decision – which concerned only the burkini and not the topless ruling or the rules on men’s swim shorts –  was “a victory for the law against separatism, for secularism and beyond that, for the whole republic,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin wrote on Twitter, referring to a law introduced last year to counter Islamist radicalism.

READ ALSO Why is France’s interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016 kicked off the first firestorm around the bathing suit.

The restrictions were eventually overturned for being discriminatory.

Burkinis are banned in French state-run pools for hygiene reasons — not on religious grounds — while swimmers are not under any legal obligation to hide their religion while bathing.

Grenoble is not the first French city to change its rules.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear.

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CRIME

Trial starts in France over 2016 Nice truck massacre

Eight suspects go on trial on Monday over the July 2016 attack in the Mediterranean city of Nice where a radical Islamist killed 86 people by driving a truck into thousands of locals and tourists celebrating France's Fête nationale.

Trial starts in France over 2016 Nice truck massacre

The attacker Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian, was shot dead by  police following the more than four-minute rampage when he zig-zagged down the  seaside embankment of the Promenade des Anglais, destroying lives in his wake.

The seven men and one woman who will go on trial in Paris are accused of crimes from being aware of his intentions to providing logistical support and supplying weapons.

Only one suspect, Ramzi Kevin Arefa, faces the maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted as a recurring offender. The others risk between five and 20 years in prison.

The trial, which is due to last until mid-December, is the latest legal process over the Islamist attacks that have hit France since 2015.

A Paris court on June 29th convicted all 20 suspects in the trial over the November 2015 attacks in the French capital which left 130 dead.

The extremist Islamic State (IS) group rapidly claimed the Nice attack, although French investigators did not find any links between the attacker and the jihadist organisation which at the time controlled swathes of Iraq and Syria.

While Lahouaiej-Bouhlel cannot now be brought to justice, the trial – as in the November 2015 case – marks a hugely important moment for survivors and relatives of the victims.

“It is better not to expect much from it so as not to be disappointed.

“Above all, we want a good trial, for everyone,” said Bruno Razafitrimo, who lost his wife Mino in the tragedy and is now bringing up their two young sons alone.

Of the accused, three suspects are charged with association in a terrorist conspiracy and the five others with association in a criminal conspiracy and violating arms laws.

The attack was the second most deadly post-war atrocity on French soil after the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Six years after the attack “the fact that the sole perpetrator is not there will create frustration. There will be many questions that no one will be able to answer,” said Eric Morain, lawyer for a victims’ association which is taking part in the trial.

“We are trying to prepare them for the fact that the sentences may not be commensurate with their suffering,” said Antoine Casubolo-Ferro, another lawyer for the victims.

Of the accused, seven will appear in court with one suspect, Brahim Tritrou, tried in absentia, after fleeing judicial supervision to Tunisia where he is now believed to be under arrest.

Just three of the accused are currently under arrest with one held in connection with another case. The defendants are a mix of Tunisians, French-Tunisians and also Albanians.

The trial will take place within the historic Palais de Justice in central Paris in the same purpose-built courthouse that hosted the November 2015 attacks hearings.

Some 30,000 people gathered on the seafront to watch a fireworks display celebrating France’s annual July 14th national day when Lahouaiej-Bouhlel began his murderous rampage.

The attack left permanent scars on the city of Nice, a byword for urban seaside glamour on France’s Cote d’Azur but which like the neighbouring Mediterranean cities of Toulon and Marseille has seen rising immigration and social tension.

Nice was struck again in October 2020 when a Tunisian Islamist radical stabbed to death three people in a church.

Nice mayor Christian Estrosi said: “This wound will never heal, whatever the outcome of the trial. This wound is too deep.”

According to French and Tunisian press reports, the body of Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was in 2017 repatriated to Tunisia and buried in his home town of M’saken, south of Tunis. This has never been confirmed by the Tunisian authorities.

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