BERLIN •German lawmakers have approved a partial ban on the full- face Islamic veil and a package of security measures aimed at preventing extremist attacks.
The new law follows several terrorist attacks, including a Berlin Christmas market truck rampage that claimed 12 lives, ahead of federal election in September. But the law on full-face veils, or burqas, falls short of a total ban in public places demanded by right-wing parties, like that in effect in neighbouring France since 2011.
The prohibition will apply to public servants - including election officials, military and judicial staff - performing their duties.
"The state has a duty to present itself in an ideologically and religiously neutral manner," says the text of the law passed by the Lower House on Thursday evening.
The move comes after Chancellor Angela Merkel called in December for a ban on full-face Muslim veils "wherever legally possible". There are five months to go before the election, and her conservatives lost some support to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) during the migrant crisis.
EUROPE'S STAND ON ISLAMIC FULL-FACE VEIL
Where the rest of Europe stands on the Muslim face veil:
France: The first European country to ban the full-face veil in public spaces, in April 2011.
Belgium: The wearing of the full veil is prohibited in public.
Britain: There is no law restricting the wearing of garments for religious reasons. But in March 2007, public establishments and denominational schools were allowed to ban face veils.
Italy: A 1975 law makes it illegal to cover one's face in public places, but courts have not used it to outlaw the full-face veil.
Netherlands: Legislation being examined by the Senate would ban burqas, helmets and face masks on public transport and in schools, hospitals and government buildings.
Scandinavia: Norway is seeking regulations banning the full-face veil in schools and universities. Denmark and Sweden allow schools, administrations and companies to decide the issue for themselves. There is no ban in Finland.
Switzerland: Switzerland's Upper House earlier this year voted against a draft Bill on a nationwide burqa ban.
Others: Greece, Portugal and Spain have not banned the burqa.
Germany has taken in more than one million migrants and refugees since 2015 - mostly from predominantly Muslim countries - stoking a xenophobic backlash and boosting the right-wing populist AfD, which has attempted to link the influx to a heightened threat of terrorism.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the social integration of immigrants requires "that we make clear and communicate our values and the limits of our tolerance to other cultures".
The ban on full facial coverings allows exceptions - for example, for health workers protecting themselves against infections or police officers concealing their identity.
People can also be required to remove facial coverings in order to match them with identity papers.
New security measures in force also include the use of electronic ankle bracelets, if approved by a judge, for people deemed a security threat in federal police cases - such as known Islamic radicals considered potentially violent by security services.
Another law paves the way for national and state police forces to pool their data in a new integrated IT system, while another new measure will see Germany implementing EU rules on the exchange of flight passenger data to counter terrorism and serious crime.
In addition, physical attacks on police, emergency services and military personnel on duty will in future be punished more severely, with up to five years' jail.
The reforms follow the Dec 19 Berlin truck attack claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS