'Burqini day' plan at French waterpark sparks outrage

MARSEILLE (France) • Plans for a waterpark in Marseille to set aside a day just for Muslim women wearing burqinis - full-body swimsuits - has sparked outrage in secular France.

The "Pool Day" tentatively set for Sept 10 at the southern city's Speedwater Park smacks of "dyed-in-the-wool communalism", said Mr Florian Philippot, an adviser to far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

The event is the idea of Smile 13, a women's association catering for Arabs in the port city, whose population of nearly two million includes around 220,000 Muslims, mainly of Algerian origin.

Islamic dress is a hot-button issue in France, where the full-face veil is banned in public places.

Speedwater Park said the event was not yet confirmed, although Smile 13 has begun accepting reservations online.

Criticism of the plan also came from the political left, with Senator Michel Amiel - who is mayor of the northern suburb, Les Pennes Mirabeau, where the waterpark is located - saying he would seek a ban.

"I am shocked and angry. I see this event as a provocation that we don't need in the current climate," he told the daily Aujourd'hui in the wake of two militant attacks that rocked France last month.

But Reverend Jean Rouet at Notre Dame church in south-western Bordeaux welcomed the "occasion to show (Muslims) that we do not confuse Islam with Islamism, Muslim with jihadist".

Socialist politician Stephane Mari worried that the burqini day would draw intensive media coverage.

If it goes ahead, it would "once again favour the party (that promotes) the values of hatred and exclusion," he said in a reference to Ms Le Pen's xenophobic National Front.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2016, with the headline ''Burqini day' plan at French waterpark sparks outrage'. Print Edition | Subscribe