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Turkey: High Court Reverses Parliament, Bans Head Scarves At Schools

Secularist demonstrators protesting against the February parliament decision (AFP) At the urging of the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's parliament voted four months ago to overwhelmingly approve two constitutional amendments that overturned laws forbidding women to wear Islamic head scarves in schools.

The move reversed nearly 90 years of Turkish secularism, and led to protests by tens of thousands of secular Turks. But on June 5, Turkey's top court reversed that move in what's becoming a broader struggle between Erdogan's Islamic-oriented government and the country's secularists.

The Constitutional Court said the amendments that would have allowed head scarves at Turkish universities were contrary to the country's modern principles of secularism.

On February 6, the Turkish parliament -- which is dominated by Erdogan's Justice and Development (AK) Party -- approved the amendments, which would have allowed women to wear Islamic head scarves at universities but not in lower schools or in offices.

The opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) immediately filed an appeal, which is what the Constitutional Court ruled on. The secular opposition forces represent Turkey's educational, legal, and military establishments.

The ruling is bad news for Prime Minister Erdogan and his party. A separate lawsuit filed by the country's chief prosecutor will, if successful, shut down the party for antisecular behavior and forbid 71 of its members -- including Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul -- to be members of any political party for five years.

Ankara University professor Baskin Oran tells Reuters the ruling "means that the court has already decided on the shutdown of the AK party, which the court should ban because of the head-scarf issue."

Erdogan and his supporters say wearing head scarves should be recognized as a personal choice of women who wish to express religious freedom. Because of the ban, they argue, many young women are denied an education.

was unhappy with the court decision.

"I think this is not fair," says Sevan Ertugrul, a female student in Ankara who wears a head scarf. "I expect some respect for my head scarf as I show respect to people dressed in short clothing or for their freedom of thought. This happening at a university is totally unfair because freedom cannot be banned at universities. It is totally unfair not to let the head scarf enter a university where even police cannot go in."

Erdogan's AK party is viewed with suspicion by the opposition, which accuses it of "antisecular activities." They argue that allowing some women to wear head scarves would put pressure on others to wear Muslim garb.

Turkey, a country of 70 million people, is overwhelmingly Muslim. In the 1920s, the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, established a secular republic that he sought to mold in the European style. As part of his reforms, he banned religious garments from daily life.

compiled from agency reports

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