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A woman wearing a niqab shops in a supermarket during the first day of winter sales in Leers, northern France, in this January 6, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Farid Alouache


STRASBOURG (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday upheld France's 2010 ban on full-face veils in public, dismissing a case brought by a French woman against the state for breach of religious freedom.

France has both the largest Muslim minority in Europe, estimated at 5 million, and some of the continent's most restrictive laws about expressions of faith in public.

It was the first European country to pass a law banning burqa and niqab garments that conceal the face in public. Belgium later followed suit.

Judges at Europe's human rights court said the law did not exceed the margin of interpretation by states in implementing the European Convention on Human Rights.

Its decision is definitive.

Authorities passed the law under former President Nicolas Sarkozy's administration, casting the full-faced veil as an affront to the country's tenets of secularism as well as being degrading to women.

It is also a security risk, preventing the accurate identification of individuals, officials have said.

Anyone wearing the full-face veil in public is liable to a fine of 150 euros ($216) (126 pounds) or lessons in French citizenship.

(Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac; Writing by Alexandria Sage and John Irish; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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