Turkey ruling Party looks to ease headscarf ban

( Reuters ) - Turkey's ruling AK Party, which has Islamist roots, signaled on Friday it plans to ease a ban on the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in universities under a new draft constitution.

"This (new) constitution will solve the headscarf problem in a more libertarian spirit," Dengir Firat, a deputy chairman of the AK Party, told CNN Turk television.

The AK party has hinted many times that it wants to modify or if possible remove the headscarf ban, which also applies to government offices.

Any moves to scrap the ban is sure to revive tensions between Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's centre-right AK Party government and Turkey's secular elite, which includes powerful army generals, top judges and university rectors.

The secularists view the headscarf as a symbol of political Islam and, therefore, as a direct challenge to Turkey's separation of religion and state. They also distrust the AK Party because of its Islamist past and the fact the wives of Erdogan and other senior ministers wear the headscarf.

The secularists tried earlier this year to block the election by parliament of the AK Party's Abdullah Gul as Turkey's president. Gul finally became president in August after Erdogan called a snap parliamentary election his AK Party won.

The AK Party is due to publish its draft constitution on December 15. It has said the draft, due to replace a text dating back to a time of military rule in the 1980s, will boost individual freedoms in Turkey, a European Union candidate.

Firat said the government wanted a wider debate about the principles and aims of the new constitution, adding that opponents were trying to whip up secularist fears artificially by concentrating solely on the headscarf issue.

"The headscarf is an extension of freedom of belief," he said.

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