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France may compromise on turban issue
Tribune News Service & UNI

New Delhi, February 13
Faced with a storm of protest from Sikhs, France today indicated early redressal of their grievances regarding sanctions on the turban as part of the anti-veil law.

“We need to solve this (the Sikh) problem,” visiting Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told reporters immediately after his meeting with Union Minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and National Commission for Minorities (NCM) chairman Tarlochan Singh at a hotel to exclusively discuss the turban issue.

France would try to work out a “good compromise” for the Sikhs “considering the ‘specificity’ of their problem”, he remarked.

“We need to have a compromise between the principle of neutrality and showing respect to the Sikh faith.”

At the hotel meeting with Sikh leaders, including Mr Dhindsa and Mr Tarlochan Singh, De Villepin also received memoranda from Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra by his aides here and from the NCM chief himself.

Both the Union Minister and Mr Tarlochan Singh told reporters after their one-to-one meeting with the French leader that they have been assured of a positive response from Paris to their request.

“France recognises well the role the Sikhs played while fighting for it with their turbans on during the World Wars. We also share historical links with the French since the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh,” said the NCM Chairman, referring to the presence of Napoleon Bonaparte’s military generals in the Army of his Sikh contemporary in India.

The French Minister described his discussion with the Sikh leaders as a “very important dialogue”.

His remarks came after he defended at a news conference earlier in the day the imminent headscarf ban in France.

“We decided to have a ban on religious symbols in public schools in the spirit of religious tolerance and not to discriminate. It is not a question of discrimination but tolerance,” he said earlier after a nearly 40-minute meeting with External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha.

Mr Villepin called on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee later in the evening.

Mr Villepin reiterated that France favoured inclusion of India in an enlarged US Security Council and emphasised the need for the Security Council to be “more representative and more efficient”.

Mr Villepin said India and Pakistan should solve their bilateral problems according to the Simla agreement. “Shimla is the spirit in which we should work,” he said in reply to a question on whether France could play a role in resolving India-Pakistan matters.

Mr Villepin praised India for its peace initiative with Pakistan saying it should show to the world how bilateral issues can be settled. “India and Pakistan have shown the way in which we can settle problems. The gesture of the Prime Minister (Atal Bihari Vajpayee) opening a dialogue with Pakistan is the best way to deal with such situations,” he said.

Mr Sinha, who was also asked to answer this question, said: “the Minister has said what I wanted to say.”

The two Foreign Ministers discussed the situation in Iraq and the Middle East, the fate of the peace process, global proliferation issues and voiced deep concern over the growing spiral of violence in Iraq.

Earlier, delivering the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture, Mr Villepin said the hand of friendship extended by Mr Vajpayee to Pakistan last April was a “courageous and noble gesture”.

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