Paris – The decision by a handful of French mayors to ban the Islamic burkini swimsuit has divided the country and shocked its neighbours, with critics seeing the prohibitions as profoundly discriminatory.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls waded into the debate, saying the garment was “not compatible with the values of France and the Republic” and that he supported towns that banned it.

Valls cited the tensions in France after a string of jihadist attacks — including July’s truck massacre in Nice — for backing mayors who barred a garment “founded on the subjugation of women.”

While expressing understanding for France’s security jitters, the paper found there to be “no earthly reason why banning them (burkinis) would help to thwart France’s violent Islamists”.

Islamic dress has long been a subject of debate in France, which was the first European country to ban the Islamic face veil in public in 2010, six years after outlawing the headscarf and other conspicuous religious symbols in state schools.

The burkini is a full-body swimsuit which covers the body and hair. © AFP Fethi Belaid

The burkini is a full-body swimsuit which covers the body and hair. © AFP Fethi Belaid