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Burqinis banned by French mayor after mass beach brawl

Sisco in Corsica announces ban on full-body swimsuit after it allegedly sparked huge fight that left five people injured and cars burned
About 500 people gathered in the town of Bastia on Sunday after the mass brawl in Sisco (AFP)

A mayor on the French island of Corsica on Monday banned burqinis, after the full-body swimsuit allegedly sparked a mass beach brawl that left five people injured and three cars burned.

Officials in the village of Sisco took the decision after the Saturday battle, between what was described by AFP as "locals and families of North African origin".

It is not entirely clear how the fight broke out, but one witness said it happened after tourists took pictures of women swimming in burqinis.

Rival sides hurled stones and bottles at each other and 100 police officers were mobilised to break up the fight.

Prosecutors in nearby Bastia said an inquiry had been opened to determine how the clashes broke out.

Sisco mayor Pierre-Ange Vivoni said burqinis would be banned in the area from Tuesday.

"People here feel provoked by things like that," he told local television, adding that he wanted to rid the island of Islamic fundamentalists.

"These people have no business here. The population of Sisco lives in permanent fear. There are many provocateurs here ... We are living on a powder keg," he said. 

It comes days after Cannes and Villeneuve-Loubet banned the burkini from their beaches in recent weeks, at a highly sensitive time for relations with France's Muslim community following a series of attacks.

The burqini issue has sparked huge controversy in France, with opponents saying the garment goes against French secular principles, but anti-racism campaigners saying that banning women from wearing it amounts to discrimination.

Islamic dress has long been a hot-button issue in France, where the full-face veil is banned in public places.

In Corsica, there were tense scenes Sunday as about 500 people gathered in the town of Bastia, seeking to enter the Lupino district which is home to a large North African community. 

"We're going up there because this is our home," they shouted. Police blocked them from entering.

A local festival planned for 15 August has been cancelled, Vivoni said, but he told AFP this was "not for security reasons but because residents are not in the mood".

A series of incidents in Corsica have raised tensions between local Muslims and their neighbours.

In December, protesters vandalised a Muslim prayer hall and trashed copies of the Koran after an assault on firefighters that was blamed on youths of Arab origin.

Last month Corsican politicians called on the French state to close down mosques on the island, after an underground separatist movement issued a threat against Islamic militants.

A splinter group of the nationalist Corsican National Liberation Front (FLNC) warned Islamists that any attack on the island would trigger "a determined response, without any qualms".

The burqini ban in Cannes won court backing on Saturday, with a judge ruling that it goes against secularism, a founding principle of the French republic.

In nearby Villeneuve-Loubet, mayor Lionnel Luca has justified the ban by saying it is unhygienic to swim fully dressed.