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Head scarf ban upheld in Turkey

Government efforts to allow Islamic dress at universities violate secularism, court rules.

June 06, 2008|From the Associated Press

ANKARA, TURKEY — Turkey's top court ruled Thursday that Islamic head scarves violate secularism and cannot be allowed at universities, deepening a divide between the country's Islamic-oriented government and secular institutions.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government had tried to allow the scarves at universities as a matter of personal and religious freedom.

But the Constitutional Court said the constitutional amendments passed by Parliament in February went against secularism.

The head scarf issue is an explosive one in Turkey, where the government is locked in a power struggle with secular groups that have support from the military and other state institutions.

Turkey's chief prosecutor is seeking to disband the ruling party on grounds that it is "the focal point of anti-secular activities" in a separate case at the Constitutional Court. The prosecutor -- who has also asked that Erdogan and other party officials be banned from politics for five years -- has cited the attempts to allow head scarves at universities as a case in point.

The nation of 70 million people is predominantly Muslim. But secularists feared that lifting the ban at universities would erode Turkey's secular nature and create pressure on all female students to cover themselves.

Many people see the head scarf as an emblem of political Islam and consider any attempt to allow it in schools as an attack on Turkey's secular laws.

After the ruling, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said the government would like to see the court's reasoning before commenting.

But Bekir Bozdag, a senior lawmaker of the ruling Justice and Development Party, said that "the Constitutional Court has overstepped its power and interfered in democracy."

"However, this verdict is binding and will be obeyed," he said.

Devlet Bahceli, leader of a nationalist party that backed the amendments, predicted that the decision would accelerate "the divide over religion."

The court's 11 judges voted 9 to 2 to annul the amendments, the state-run Anatolian news agency reported. At least seven votes would be required to disband the party.

A statement from the court said the amendments violated articles of the constitution, including one that states, "The Turkish Republic is a secular state" and another that says altering its secular nature "cannot even be proposed."

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