The court in Strasbourg confirmed an earlier ruling against Leyla Sahin, 32, who was barred from sitting a university exam in 1998 because she wore a headscarf. The decision was a vindication of the policies of a mainly Muslim country which imposes the ban to prevent any religion being favoured.
The court ruled that Turkish law was consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights and with the protection of women's rights in general. It argued: "When examining the question of the Islamic headscarf in the Turkish context, there had to be borne in mind the impact which wearing such a symbol, which was presented or perceived as a compulsory religious duty, may have on those who chose not to wear it."
Limitations on the right to wear a headscarf could be "regarded as meeting a pressing social need", the court ruled. The decision has implications for many other legal cases, and for other countries with headscarf bans, including France.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government promised to tackle shortcomings in its political and legal reforms after the European Commission said its preparations to join the EU had lost momentum. Abdullah Gul, the Foreign Minister, said: "Our government is determined to implement the reforms, to deepen and strengthen democracy."