Turkish parliament votes to lift headscarf bans

Turkish parliament votes to lift headscarf bans

( dpa ) - The Turkish parliament on Saturday voted to lift a ban on the wearing of Islamic-style headscarves at universities with the first of two proposed constitutional changes receiving a solid majority of votes in favour.

Some 403 deputies voted in favour of the first amendment, 107 against. The parliament was scheduled to continue voting on Saturday on the second amendment and then on the two-part package together.

With support from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the ruling Justice and Delevopment Party (AKP) was easily able to pass the two- thirds of votes needed for the changes to pass.

The government must now prepare legislation to change parts of the Higher Education Law for the bans to be lifted. The opposition Republican People's Party has vowed to go to the Constitutional Court in an attempt to block the changes.

The government has argued that the changes are a women's rights issue but opponents fear that the moves are part of a creeping Islamification of Turkish society and that the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ultimately seeks to impose sharia law.

The government also points to public opinion polls, the latest from Metropoll Research showed that 65 per cent of Turks support lifting the bans, as evidence that the moves are democratic.

Establishment groups such as the judiciary, top business groups and academics have all condemned the plan to lift the restrictions. The staunchly-secularist military has refused to get involved in the debate but has made it clear they are watching events carefully.

Thousands of people gathered in downtown Ankara Saturday to protest the lifting of the bans. The protest comes a week after more than 100,000 gathered at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic who entrenched secularism, to protest against the changes.

The government must now prepare legislation to change parts of the Higher Education Law for the bans to be lifted. The opposition Republican People's Party has vowed to go to the Constitutional Court in an attempt to block the changes.

Wearing of the headscarf in universities was first banned after the 1980 military coup but it was not until the late 1990s that the ban was strictly enforced. Rather than take off their head-coverings many devout Islamic women have refused to go to university and some, including Erdogan's daughters, have studied abroad to get around the ban.

The move to allow the Islamic-style head-covering comes after Erdogan's AKP was returned to power last year in early elections that were forced following a series of spats with secularists over the nomination of Abdullah Gul, whose wife wears a headscarf, for the presidency.

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