Sarkozy told a cabinet meeting, which approved the bill that could become law this autumn, that France was an old nation that could not allow its vision of women's dignity and public order to be violated by the veil.

President Nicolas Sarkozy urged French Muslims Wednesday not to feel hurt or stigmatised by a planned ban on full face veils that will fine women who hide their faces and jail men if they force them to cover up.

Only a tiny minority of Muslim women in Europe wear full veils, called niqabs or burqas, but their numbers are growing. The Belgian parliament has already begun debating a ban there and could also impose it in the coming months.

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