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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Muslim girl ordered off bus for wearing veil

Sulaiman Kamal | 3:41 PM | | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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NEW Zealand's prime minister today called for tolerance following a public outcry when a bus driver refused to allow a Muslim woman to get on board because she was wearing a veil.

The student from Saudi Arabia was left standing on the street in tears after she was ordered off a crowded bus because the driver objected to her covered face, national television network TV3 reported.

The incident, in May, came just two days after another driver from the same company, NZ Bus, ordered another woman to remove her veil.

The incidents prompted the Consulate-General of Saudi Arabia to write to the government to complain, The Dominion Post reported today, and led to Prime Minister John Key defending the women's right to cover their faces, saying it was "part of people's beliefs."

"I think where practical, and on both sides, people should respect others' culture and cultural beliefs. There is practical reasons why sometimes a burqa won't be applicable; banks for example for security reasons from time to time they will enforce that," Mr Key said.

''But for the most part we are a multicultural society and we should respect others' cultural beliefs.''

NZ Bus said the drivers' objections to the veiled women were not religious in nature and that they suffered from "maskophobia."

''Both drivers ... claim it's not religious ... but they genuinely have a phobia of people wearing masks, hence why we have not dismissed them,'' general manager Jon Calder said.

Mr Calder added that the drivers were being counselled and had received final warnings.

According to the New Zealand Herald, one driver had finished the counselling program, and had visited a mosque and apologised to one of the women.

The community debate about veils in New Zealand comes in the wake of a new law announced on Monday in neighbouring Australia which will give New South Wales police the right to order women to remove their burqas.

Police are to be given the power to force anyone to remove a face covering during routine traffic stops, if suspected of committing a crime or if they are considered a potential security risk.

If a woman defies police and refuses to remove her veil she could be jailed for up to a year or fined $5500.

The penalties are some of the world's toughest burqa rules. In France, where burqas are completely banned in public, women face fines of $150.

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