A cabinet minister has delivered a staunch defence of a woman's right to wear a burka.

As debate intensified across Europe on banning the controversial Muslim garment from public places, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said women were 'empowered' by the freedom to wear the face coverings.

Her comments came after her colleague, Immigration Minister Damian Green, resisted demands from within the Tory party to ban the burka, which critics claim is a symbol of the oppression of women.

Mr Green said a ban would be 'rather un-British' and run contrary to the conventions of a 'tolerant and mutually respectful society'.

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