France has banned the full-face veil and already protests are breaking out across the country, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe.

The law, which makes wearing a full-face veil – or niqab – in public illegal and punishable with a fine, was approved last year and came into effect today.

Wearing a face veil in public is now punishable with a €150 fine, but it is not yet clear how the law will be enforced.

The law forbids clothing intended to hide the face being worn in public spaces such as streets, markets, private business, government buildings and public transportation.

The ban will also apply to Muslims visiting the country.

Protests across France as veil ban begins

France has a Muslim population of six million and with tensions already running high today’s move has been seen by some as adding fuel to the anti-immigration fire.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of stigmatising Islam to win back votes from the far right, which is gaining popularity.

Defending the ban, the French government claims that wearing the veil is a symbol of male oppression.

It has been estimated by the French government that only 2,000 women wear the full-face veil. However, rights groups argue that Sarkozy is targeting a vulnerable group.

In one of the first public protests, Kenza Drider, 32, today set out in full face veil to take part in television programme about the ban.

“This law infringes my European rights, I cannot but defend them, that is to say my freedom to come and go and my religious freedom,” she said.

On Saturday police arrested 59 people, 19 of them veiled, who turned up for a banned protest in Paris.

An outspoken opponent of the ban, Muslim property dealer Rachid Nekkaz has set aside a fund of over €2 million to help women fight the ban.

A demonstration is set to take place outside the Notre Dame cathedral in central Paris.

How will the veil ban be enforced?

French police have not been given power to forcibly remove head coverings and are expecting to face resistance in immigrant districts.

“The law will be infinitely difficult to enforce, and will be infinitely rarely enforced,” said Manuel Roux, deputy head of a union representing local police chiefs.

“If they refuse, that’s when things get really complicated. We have no power to force them,” he said. “I can’t begin to imagine we’re going to pay any attention to a veiled woman in a sensitive area, where men are proud.”

Anyone refusing to lift his or her veil can be taken to a police station. There, officers must try to persuade them to remove the garment, and can threaten fines.

A woman who repeatedly insists on wearing the veil in public can be fined and ordered to attend re-education classes.

More severe penalties await anyone found guilty of forcing another to wear a veil.

What are your views on the veil ban?