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A video of a politician from the National Rally (formerly the National Front) demanding at a French regional council meeting that a lady take off her veil was met with outrage as it went viral more than the weekend – even drawing criticism from other figures in the far-correct celebration.

Julien Odoul, leader of the National Rally (RN) group in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté regional assembly, asked the head of the council to demand a lady attending the October 11 meeting “remove her Islamic veil” in “the name of the principles of laïcité” – the strict secularism that some see as central to French national identity.

The lady was attending the meeting with a group of nearby schoolchildren – which includes her son who, in response to Odoul’s words, began to cry.

The council’s president, Socialist Marie-Guite Dufay, told Odoul that neither French national law nor the regional council’s guidelines cease persons from wearing the veil for the duration of such meetings. RN politicians then left the space – just before releasing a statement describing the woman’s wearing of the veil as an “Islamist provocation”.

Later the very same day, Dufay took to Twitter to lambast Odoul’s demand as “unworthy of an elected official of the French Republic”.

‘Publicly humiliating mothers in front of their children’

As the video – posted by Odoul himself – went viral on Twitter more than the weekend, national political figures expressed their condemnation. Marlène Schiappa, the Macron governmernt’s minister for gender equality, wrote on Twitter that “it is by publicly humiliating mothers in front of their kids that we produce divisions” in French society.

“Who does he feel he is, stigmatising a person who’s accompanying kids on a college trip?” the government’s official spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye added on Sunday, speaking to France three tv.

But some prominent figures inside the government see the matter differently.

“The law does not prohibit veiled ladies from accompanying kids, but we do not want to encourage the phenomenon”, which is  “not in agreement with our values”, Jean-Michel Blanquer, the education minister, told BFMTV.

Bruno Le Maire, the education minister, stated Monday on France Information that the veil “is legal, but not necessarily desirable”.

“We need to know […] what culture we want to defend,” continued the minister. “I share a culture of equality in between ladies and guys […] in which religion remains in the private sphere and has no spot in the public space.”

Even RN politicians felt the require to criticise Odoul’s demand.

The councillor’s “unwelcome remarks” had been “unnecessarily hurtful and aggressive”, National Rally MEP Nicolas Bey told France Inter radio.

“I wouldn’t have acted like Odoul, publicly singling out a person in the audience,” Wallerand de Saint-Just, a member of the RN’s executive board, told Radio Classique.

For his portion, Odoul was unapologetic: “I have no regrets about defending the values of the Republic,” he told Europe 1 radio on Monday.

The very same day, Christian Jacob – the newly elected leader of the Republicans celebration (LR), which is descended from the traditionally moderate parties of the French correct but moved in a socially conservative path below earlier leader Laurent Wauquiez – expressed assistance for Odoul’s position.

It is “already forbidden” for teachers to put on veils at college, so why need to “people in speak to with kids outdoors college, in an educational capacity, be permitted to do so”, Jacob stated on France Inter.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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