THE HAGUE, Netherlands --Lawmakers in the lower house of Dutch parliament have approved a limited ban on "face-covering clothing" including Islamic veils and robes such as the burqa and niqab. It's a law the government said was essential for security but which opponents said pandered to anti-Muslim sentiment.
The legislation approved Tuesday by a large majority in the 150-seat lower house must now be approved by the upper house of parliament before it can be signed into law.
Studies suggest that only a few hundred women in the Netherlands wear niqabs or full-face burqas, but successive governments have attempted to ban the garments, following the example of European countries such as France and Belgium.
The Dutch proposal, described by the government as "religion-neutral," does not go as far as the complete bans in those countries. It applies on public transport, education institutions, government buildings health institutions such as hospitals and government buildings.
The ban has long been a demand of Geert Wilders' anti-Islam opposition Freedom Party which is leading in polls ahead of elections in March.
Full and partial face veils such as burqas and niqabs divide opinion in Europe, setting religious freedom advocates against secularists and those who say that the garments are culturally alien or a symbol of the oppression of women.
Violating the Dutch law would incur a fine of 405 euros ($430).
"Everyone has the right to dress as he or she wishes," the government said in a statement announcing the law. "That freedom is limited only where it is essential for people to see each other, for example to ensure good service or security."
Opponents of the law have accused center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte of pandering to the anti-Muslim vote in a bid not to be outflanked by Wilders.