Tens of thousands march against government plan to allow women to wear Muslim religious attire to universities. But while leadership insists move would expand freedom for minorities, secular nation wary of fundamental Islam worries move may lead to pressure against women to cover upÂ
‘Turkey will remain secular’ protestors chantedÂ
Some 125,000 flag-waving Turks on Saturday denounced the Islamic-rooted government over its plans to lift a decades-old ban on Islamic head scarves in universities – a move the foreign minister said would expand Turkish freedoms.
The government has defended its plan as a reform needed to bring Turkey in line with European Union human rights guidelines, but many including the country’s influential military establishment see the move as a serious threat to the country’s secular traditions.
Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told a news conference on Saturday that the government wanted to expand freedoms to turn Turkey into a “first-class democracy where freedoms in all fields are enjoyed fully”.
* ‘Islamic democracy’- you know what that means…
He also said Turkey must lift the ban as part of democratic reforms aimed at European Union accession. The EU has pressed Turkey to boost freedom of expression and minority rights but has no EU position on the headscarf issue.
The Parliament was expected to approve a series of legal amendments next week under which female students would be allowed to wear head scarves at universities as long as they tie them under the chin, leaving their faces more exposed.
The nuance was unlikely to win over many opponents who regard the head scarves as political statements. It even failed to satisfy some Islamists who staged separate protests in Istanbul and Ankara, demanding the freedom to wear a more Islamic-style head scarf that tightly covers the hair. Some of them covered their hair with paper bags in protest in Ankara.
“Turkey is secular and will remain secular,” shouted protesters as they waved national flags and banners of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, revered founder of the republic which separated religion and state, at his mausoleum in the capital Ankara.