MEAUX, France - A French court fined two Muslim women on Thursday for wearing full-face veils in public, the first time a judge has imposed punishment under a "burqa ban" law that has become a legal and cultural battleground across Europe.
One of the women pledged immediately to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn the ban, which President Nicolas Sarkozy says protects women and guarantees equality but opponents argue violates human rights and panders to xenophobia.
Only a tiny percentage of French Muslim women wear full-face veils. But the law, which took effect in April, has become a focus of debate in mainly-secular Europe, where right-wing parties hostile to Muslim immigration are gaining support.
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