Erdogan moves to ease ban on wearing of Muslim scarf

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The Independent Online

Turkey's ruling AK party and opposition nationalists are trying to ease a ban on women wearing Muslim headscarves in universities.

Turkish secularists, who include army generals and judges, have long opposed any easing of the ban, saying it could harm the separation of state and religion. The issue sparked early polls last year after secular rallies and army warnings.

A proposal was sent to parliament yesterday with the signatures of 348 deputies from the AK party and the nationalist MHP, whose support is needed to push through the reform.

"Our sole goal is to end the injustice against our women students. We have no other aim. These changes are limited to higher education," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said.

Mr Erdogan, who once served a short jail sentence for reading a poem deemed too Islamist and whose wife and daughters all wear the headscarf, has to tread warily for fear of provoking the army. The staunchly secular army, with public backing, ousted a government it saw as too Islamist in 1997.

The proposal would only lift the ban for women who tie the headscarf under their chin in the traditional Turkish way. The increasingly popular wrap-round version, seen as a symbol of political Islam, will continue to be banned on campuses. Burqas – which cover the whole body – and other forms of Islamic dress will remain banned.