French minister accused of racism over 'negroes' comment

This file photo taken on September 29, 2014 shows French Junior Minister for Family Affairs, Laurence Rossignol attending a press conference to present the draft law for the financing of the social security in 2015 in Paris. AFP photo

France's minister for women's rights on March 30 compared women who choose to wear conservative Islamic dress to the "American negroes" who once supported slavery, sparking anger and accusations of racism.

The remarks by Minister Laurence Rossignol, during an interview with French TV channel BFM, came as she railed against fashion retailers H&M, Marks and Spencer and Dolce & Gabbana for launching products designed specifically for Muslim women, such as hijabs and the "burkini" - a swimsuit with a built-in hood designed to cover everything except the hands, feet and face.

Such companies were "irresponsible" and guilty of "promoting the confinement of women's bodies", said Rossignol.

When the interviewer pointed out that many Muslim women freely choose to adhere to conservative Islamic dress codes, Rossignol responded: "Of course there are women who choose it. There were American negroes who were in favour of slavery."

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