Australia police get burka powers

A woman wearing a burka talks on a mobile phone in Sydney. Photo: July 2011Muslim organisations in the state said they accepted the changes
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Police in Australia’s New South Wales state have been given more powers to remove burkas and other face coverings to identify crime suspects.

Anyone who refuses to show their face could now be jailed for up to a year or face a heavy fine.

The move follows the recent case of a Muslim woman who was acquitted after a judge ruled her Islamic veil made a positive identification impossible.

Islamic leaders in the state said they were comfortable with the new measure.

The New South Wales government approved the changes at a meeting late on Monday.

“I don’t care whether a person is wearing a motorcycle helmet, a burka, niqab, face veil or anything else, the police should be allowed to require those people to make their identification clear,” Premier Barry O’Farrell said.

He added: “I have every respect for various religions and beliefs but when it comes to enforcing the law the police should be given adequate powers to make a clear identification.”

State police welcomed the change, saying it would “provide clarity and certainty for both the public and for police officers”.

The Islamic Council of New South Wales said it accepted the move, while the Muslim Women’s Association said it had no problem if police handled the issue sensitively, including the deployment of female police officers.

The changes come after the high-profile case of Carnita Matthews, who last year was sentenced to six months in prison for falsely accusing a policeman of trying to forcibly remove her burka during a random breath test.

But she won on appeal after a judge ruled that the prosecution could not prove she had made the false complaint because officers were not able to see her face.

State police previously had the power to request the removal of face veils while investigating serious offences, but not on more routine matters.

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Japan minister quits after a week

Ryu Matsumoto announces his resignation at a press conference at his office in Tokyo on 5 July, 2011Mr Matsumoto gave no reason for his departure at a Tokyo press conference on Tuesday

Japan’s Minister for Reconstruction Ryu Matsumoto has announced his resignation after just a week in the job.

He had been widely criticised for making insensitive remarks to governors of areas badly affected by March’s deadly earthquake and tsunami.

He had said the government would not help them financially unless they came up with good rebuilding proposals.

The resignation will increase pressure on PM Naoto Kan’s already unpopular government, correspondents say.

Last month Mr Kan survived a no-confidence motion brought by MPs critical of his handling of the reconstruction process following the quake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, says the BBC’s Japan correspondent, Roland Buerk.

The prime minister is trying to persuade MPs to back an extra $25bn (£15.5bn) of reconstruction funds, and will not have wanted attention to be diverted by his minister’s comments, adds our correspondent.

A moist-eyed Mr Matsumoto announced his resignation at a Tokyo press conference early on Tuesday, but gave no reason for his departure.

“I have many things I would like to say… But I will be gone from now,” AP quoted him as saying.

The 60-year-old made the offending remarks to regional governors during a tour of tsunami-hit prefectures of Iwate and Miyagi on Sunday.

Mr Matsumoto also berated Miyagi Prefecture Governor Yoshihiro Murai for keeping him waiting. He then ordered journalists filming the exchange that it should not be broadcast, saying their networks would suffer if it was.

The 11 March quake and tsunami levelled homes, businesses and towns along Japan’s north-eastern coast, leaving more than 20,000 people dead or missing in the country’s worst disaster since World War II.

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This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.