MARSEILLE: France's highest administrative court today suspended a controversial ban on the burkini by a French Riviera town, although other resorts remained defiant, vowing to keep the restrictions in place.
In a judgement expected to lead to bans being overturned in around 30 towns along the French coast, the State Council ruled the measure was a "serious and clearly illegal violation of fundamental freedoms".
The case was brought by two rights groups seeking to overturn the ban, which has triggered a fierce debate in France and sparked critical headlines around the world.
The suspension of the ban on the Islamic swimsuit, which covers from the head to the heels, was welcomed by the United Nations.
But the ruling, which only applied to the ban imposed by Villeneuve-Loubet, was quickly dismissed by several other towns, including Nice, which vowed to keep the restrictions in place and continue imposing fines on women who wear the full-body swimsuit.
In its decision, the court said local authorities could only introduce measures restricting individual freedoms if wearing the swimsuit on beaches represented a "proven risk" to public order.
The judges said there was no such risk in the case before the court concerning Villeneuve-Loubet, a resort between Nice and Cannes.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) hailed the ruling as a "victory for common sense".
And UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said "we welcome the decision by the court," noting that the world body stresses "the need for people's dignity to be respected."
Police action to fine Muslim women for wearing burkinis on beaches in several towns, including in the tourist resorts of Nice and Cannes, has triggered a fierce debate about women's rights and the French state's strictly-guarded secularism.
But the ruling provoked defiance from several Riviera resorts, who pledged to continue imposing fines.
In recent weeks, around 30 French municipalities decided to ban access to public beaches "by anyone not wearing proper attire, which is respectful of good morality and the principle of secularism and not respectful of the rules of hygiene and bathing security".
Nice town hall said it would "continue to fine" women wearing the burkini as long as its ban put in place on August 19 was not overturned.
The far-right mayor of Frejus, David Rachline, also insisted his ban was "still valid", telling AFP there was "no legal procedure" against his ruling.
Ange-Pierre Vivoni, Socialist mayor of the Corsican town of Sisco, said his Burkini ban, introudced this month following a confrontation between Moroccan bathers and locals, would also remain "for the safety of property and people in the town because I risked having deaths on my hands".