A niqab veiled young woman is surounded by media in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, April 11, 2011. France's ban on full face veils, a first in Europe, went into force, exposing anyone who wears the Muslim niqab or burqa in public to fines of 150 euros and lessons in French citizenship. (Xinhua/Gao Jing)
GENEVA, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- A group of Swiss voters handed in a petition Friday with 106,600 signatures to federal authorities for a referendum on a nationwide ban on veils that cover the face.
A committee handed in the signatures to the Federal Chancellery in Bern for a people's initiative on the issue. The federal authorities and parliament must now decide upon it, the Swiss News Agency reported.
A petition on a people's initiative needs 100,000 signatures for a federal referendum in the country.
"Switzerland is committed to the tradition of freedom. People who are free, women and men, look at each other when they speak to each other," said the committee in a statement.
Opponents of the referendum have accused supporters of the veil ban of undermining basic rights and attacking "liberal values enshrined in the Swiss constitution", Swiss national radio's website Swissinfo reported.
The committee wanting the ban, argued, however that the European Court of Human Rights considers the forced or voluntary covering of the face in public as in conflict with community life in a free society.
For this reason, it said a ban is appropriate, and does not violate freedom of religion or opinion and it is non-discriminatory.
The proposal demands a ban on any face covering.
The initiative, dubbed by the local media, a "burqa ban", provides for exceptions for reasons of health or safety, climatic reasons or in the case of local customs.
The federal authorities will now validate the signatures before the government and parliament will discuss it and set a date.
Three years ago, the Italian-speaking Ticino area became the first of Switzerland's 26 cantons to approve a burka ban.