Ten French Muslim women have been fined and cautioned by police for wearing burqinis to the beach in the southern French city of Cannes since the city imposed a temporary ban on the full-body swimwear three weeks ago, a local official said on Wednesday.
Six of the women were able to leave the beach after being cautioned, while four of them were fined 38 euros ($43), a Cannes townhall spokeswoman told Reuters.
The ban came after a waterpark in nearby Marseille cancelled plans to host a private event for Muslim women wearing burqinis.
David Lisnard, the mayor of the French Rivera resort, had caused an uproar among rights groups by making Cannes the first city to impose the ban on the full-body swimsuits.
"I took this decision among several other rulings to make sure my city is safe in the context of the state of emergency," Lisnard said.
He also said it was necessary to prevent the beachwear from ostentatiously diplaying religious affiliation.
Thierry Migoule, head of municipal services for the city, later sought to clarify the ban saying that he associated the beachwear with "terrorist movements."
A newly introduced by-law ruled only clothing that "is respectful to morality and secular principles, and in compliance with hygiene and safety rules" is allowed.
All of the ten women were stopped by police in Cannes, where the ban on the conservative swimwear was controversially introduced on July 28.
The women, aged from 29 to 57, were with their children at the beach when police officers intervened over the supposedly offending garments.
"They are young mothers or grandmothers, and they do not believe they are criminals," a local council source told website Mail Online. "All were very upset at the way they were treated."
The local ban is said to have been imposed on the basis of secularism, but it has been widely opposed by Muslim groups, anti-racism organisations and human rights groups who call the ban unconstitutional, intolerant, divisive and Islamophobic.
The Conseil d'Etat, France's highest administrative court, will rule on the legality of burkini bans in the days to come.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Wednesday said he opposed the burqini because it was an "enslavement of women" and a "provocation".
"That is not compatible with the values of France," he said during an interview with La Provence newspaper, although he did not go as far as to backing a full national law against the swimwear.
"I support those who have taken measures [to ban burqinis]. They are motivated by the desire to encourage social unity," he said. "I don't think we should legislate on the issue. General rules on clothing restrictions cannot be a solution."
The ban in Cannes came into force after an alleged supporter of DAESH drove a lorry into crowds in Nice, killing 85 people on Bastille Day on July 14. The ban is expected to continue until August 31.
"Following the attacks, the atmosphere is very tense and the burkini is seen as an ostentatious display that can threaten public order, that is why we took the measure," the Cannes townhall spokeswoman said.
Since then, several other French towns have also placed similar bans on the burqini.
Villeneuve-Loubet, a resort town close to Nice, is one of them.
Lionnel Luca, mayor of Villeneuve-Loubet, said the ban on the garments was for sanitary reasons. "I was told that there was a couple on one of our beaches where the wife was swimming fully dressed, and I considered that unacceptable for hygienic reasons and unwelcome given the general situation," he told AFP news agency.
Pierre-Ange Vivoni, the mayor of a Corsican village which was the scene of a massive brawl this weekend between locals and youths of North African origin, allegedly sparked by burqinis, will enact a ban on full-body swimsuits on nearby beaches on August 23.
The ban, however, has not yet attracted much support elsewhere in Europe. Italy's interior minister, Angelino Alfano, rejected a similar ban on Wednesday.
"It doesn't seem to me, alas, that the French model has worked for the best," he told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
France has imposed a controversial ban on full-face veils since 2004.