French Presidential Contender Juppe Urges Burkini Restraint

(Bloomberg) -- French presidential contender Alain Juppe called on his compatriots to exercise restraint on the debate over whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear body-covering Burkinis on beaches, marking a split with primary vote rival Nicolas Sarkozy.

“Today, given the tension and suffering in French society, we’d all be well advised to stop throwing oil on the fire,” Juppe said Saturday in an interview in Le Figaro newspaper. “Let’s resist the temptation to seek laws of circumstances driven by media polemics.”

French Presidential Contender Juppe Urges Burkini Restraint

Alain Juppe in Lyon, France, on June 29.

Source: Sipa via AP Photo

The remarks represent a clear division between Juppe and Sarkozy as they battle to become the nominee of the Republican party for the presidential election in 2017. Former president Sarkozy this week called for a nationwide ban on the Burkini.

A poll for Le Parisien and BFMTV published on Saturday showed Juppe would get 38 percent of voter support in the first round of the party’s primary, while Sarkozy would get 24 percent. In a second-round vote, with just the two of them participating, Juppe would get 63 percent and Sarkozy 37 percent.

France’s top court struck down a push by local governments to ban the Burkini from the nation’s beaches on Friday, saying the Muslim-style full-body swimming outfits don’t create a public threat that justifies impinging on freedom of religion.

The decision dealt specifically with a law in Villeneuve-Loubet on the Riviera but sets a legal precedent against similar bans in at least 31 beach towns, mostly run by rightist mayors. The case was brought by a human-rights organization and a group that monitors anti-Islamic speech.

The local bans, as well as video footage of police standing over a woman on a beach as she removed a long-sleeved shirt, split the government and were widely covered -- and widely ridiculed -- by media around the world. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were among leaders who criticized the prohibitions.

With more than 200 people killed in terrorist attacks since the beginning of 2015 and a presidential election less than eight months away, some French politicians are competing to show toughness in defending the national principle of keeping religion out of the public sphere.