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Turkey’s PM says ban on headscarf in state universities should be removed


A ban on women wearing Islamic headscarves in Turkish universities should be lifted, the country’s prime minister said Wednesday, signaling a significant change in his stance on the contentious issue.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference he wants a new constitution to lay the legal foundation for removing the ban. “We are talking about freedoms,” he said.

Erdogan had been previously reluctant to openly state his intentions about the headscarf ban. When asked about the issue before general elections in July, he stated loyalty to personal freedom instead of mentioning the headscarf issue as one of the top items on his agenda.

However, soon after the elections, Erdogan’s Islamic oriented Justice and Development Party formed a group of legislators and scholars to write a new Constitution that will replace the current one, written during military rule following a coup in 1980.

A copy of the first draft published by Turkish media includes alternative wordings for a possible article that would allow the Islamic headscarf to be worn on campuses.

“The right to higher education cannot be restricted because of what a girl wears. There is no such problem in western societies but there is a problem in Turkey and I believe it is the first duty of those in politics to solve this problem,” Erdogan was quoted as saying by the Financial Times on Wednesday.

The head of Turkey’s Higher Education Board, who is also a law scholar, said it would be illegal to modify the Constitution to remove the ban.

The current constitution has often been criticized as being too restrictive, and several non-governmental organizations are known to have prepared alternatives.

The wearing of headscarves in universities was first banned shortly after a 1980 military coup by officers who viewed Islamists as a serious threat. But the implementation of that rule varied during the law’s early years.

In 1997, a coalition government run by an Islamist party was ousted after a conflict with staunchly secular institutions, including the military, which feared that Turkey’s leaders were undermining the secular principles protected by the constitution.

Then, entering a university campus wearing an Islamic headscarf was prohibited. Another law prohibited “covered” women from working in government offices.

– Associated Press

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