Head scarf ban for Antwerp city counter clerks raises protests

A head scarf ban for municipal counter clerks in the northern port city of Antwerp has raised protest from Muslims and women activists, officials said Tuesday.

The city council decided late Monday that civil servants dealing directly with the public should not wear visible religious symbols like a Muslim head scarf or a Christian cross. Some 150 mostly Muslim women protested the decision late Monday and the organizers said they were considering further action.

Antwerp has been a stronghold of the far-right Flemish Interest party, but it was defeated in local elections last October by the socialists, who had run a campaign stressing the multicultural makeup of Belgium’s second-largest city.

Opponents of the ban were disappointed that the coalition of socialists, liberals and Christian democrats who run the city council had outlawed head scarves for frontdesk staff. “It was a surprise, especially after a campaign like that,” said Sophie De Graeve of the women’s rights group VOK.

Associated Press, 16 January 2007