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PARIS -The French government’s decision to ban children from wearing the abaya, the loose-fitting, full-length robes worn by some Muslim women, in state-run schools drew applause on Monday from the right, but also criticism.

France has enforced a ban on religious symbols in state schools since 2004, to uphold its strict brand of secularism, known as “laicite”. The topic is a sensitive one, regularly triggering political tension in the country.

“Our schools are continually put under test, and over the past months, breaches to laicite have increased considerably, in particular with (pupils) wearing religious attire like abayas and kameez,” Education Minister Gabriel Attal told a news conference to explain Sunday’s ban.

The head of the conservative Les Republicains party, Eric Ciotti, was quick to welcome the move, which he said was long overdue.

The SNPDEN-UNSA union of school principals welcomed the decision, saying what it needed above all was clarity from the government, its national secretary, Didier Georges, told Reuters.

“What we wanted from ministers was: ‘yes or no?'” Georges said of the abaya. “We’re satisfied because a decision was made.”

But many on the left criticised the move, including Clementine Autain, an MP for the hard-left France Insoumise, who criticised what she called the “clothes police” and a move “characteristic of an obsessional rejection of Muslims”.

And some academics agreed the move could be counterproductive, all the more as it touched on clothing they said was worn for fashion or identity rather than religion.

“It’s going to hurt Muslims in general. They will, once again, feel stigmatised,” said sociologist Agnes De Feo, who has been researching French women wearing niqab for the past decade.

“It’s really a shame because people will judge these young girls, while it (the abaya) is a teenage expression without consequences.” French ban of abaya robes in schools draws applause, criticism

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