Australian forced off French beach over burkini ban

September 20, 2016 6:01 AM EDT

A Muslim woman wears a burkini, a swimsuit that leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, on a beach in Marseille, France, August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo


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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - An Australian woman was forced off a beach on the French Riviera after beachgoers objected to her wearing a full-body swimsuit, or "burkini", images broadcast on Australian television showed.

Zeynab Alshelh traveled from Sydney several weeks ago with her parents to show solidarity with Muslims in France, equipped with Australian-designed burkinis in the French national colors to give away.

As she and her mother, clad in blue burkinis, and her father settled down under a large pink beach umbrella, a man threatened to call police and a blonde woman gave the family a thumbs-down, the footage from Australia's Channel Seven showed.

"It's upsetting, it's not fair," she told the program that aired on Sunday.

"We were threatened by locals to leave the beach and if we didn't, they were going to call the police. They weren't happy with us being there. They are seeing something that is not there."

Channel Seven did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for comment.

A judge in the Mediterranean city of Nice this month declared the prohibition of the full-body swimwear to be illegal there, in the latest setback to attempts to ban burkini-clad women from the beaches of the Riviera.

Nice, where 86 people died in an Islamic State militant attack in July, was one of about 30 towns in the largely right-wing part of the country to ban the burkini on the grounds that it presented a threat to public order.

"I thought the ban was ridiculous. It just doesn't make sense to me, there's no connection at all between the burkini and these terrorist acts," the Australian woman said.

The controversy over the swimwear, coupled with several Islamist militant attacks in France since January 2015, has filtered into early campaigning for the April 2017 presidential election, making French cultural identity and security highly-charged issues.

The Australian designer of the burkini, predominantly worn by Muslim women, told Reuters last month that sales of the garment had increased after three French cities banned it.

"Why would they ban something when I designed a swimsuit that was part of integration with the Australian lifestyle?" the designer, Aheda Zanetti, told the program.

Zanetti estimated that 40 percent of her sales go to non-Muslim women, with cancer survivors, body conscious mothers or women who want to protect their skin from the sun among them.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)



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