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Turkish court upholds college head scarf ban
Women watch a model presenting a creation by a Turkish designer during a street fashion show in Istanbul, Turkey, late Tuesday, June 3, 2008. Turkey's top court will meet Thursday and could issue a decision on whether to cancel a law allowing Islamic head scarves in universities. - photo by Associated Press
    ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s top court ruled Thursday that Islamic head scarves violate secularism and cannot be allowed at universities, deepening a divide between the country’s Islamic-oriented government and secular institutions.
    Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government had tried to allow the scarves at universities as a matter of personal and religious freedom.
    But the Constitutional Court verdict said constitutional amendments that were passed by Parliament in February went against secularism.
    The head scarf issue is an explosive one Turkey, where the government is locked in a power struggle with secular groups that have support from the military and other state institutions.
    The verdict is likely to bode ill for the government. Turkey’s chief prosecutor is seeking to disband the ruling party on grounds that it is ‘‘the focal point of anti-secular activities’’ in a separate case at the Constitutional Court. The prosecutor — who has also asked that Erdogan and other party officials be banned from politics for five years — has cited attempts to allow head scarves at universities as a case in point.
    Many see the head scarf as an emblem of political Islam, and consider any attempt to allow it in schools as an attack against modern Turkey’s secular laws.
    There was no immediate comment from the government. Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said the government would like to see the court’s reasoning behind the decision before commenting.
    But Bekir Bozdag, a senior lawmaker of the ruling party, said ‘‘the Constitutional Court has overstepped its power and interfered in democracy.’’
    ‘‘However, this verdict is binding and will be obeyed,’’ he added.
    Devlet Bahceli, the leader of a nationalist party which backed the amendments, predicted the decision would accelerate ‘‘the divide over religion.’’
    The court’s 11 judges voted 9-2 to annul the amendments, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. At least seven votes would be required to disband the party.
    A brief statement from the court said the amendments were annulled because they were in violation of some articles of the Constitution, including one that states that ‘‘The Turkish Republic is a secular state’’ and another that says that altering the secular nature of the state ‘‘cannot even be proposed.’’
    Onur Oymen, a senior lawmaker of the opposition Republican People Party, said the verdict spelled the end to such amendments.
    ‘‘From now on, no one will be able to attempt to change the Constitution,’’ Oymen told NTV television.
    ‘‘This decision reminds the ruling party what it can or cannot do despite winning 47 percent of the votes,’’ Husamettin Cindoruk, former parliament speaker, told NTV television. ‘‘This decision has set the boundaries and reshaped the state.’’
    In February, Parliament passed constitutional amendments to allow head scarves to be worn at universities — but not in schools or state offices. The secular opposition immediately appealed the ruling to the top court.
    Turkey’s 70 million people are predominantly Muslim. But secularists feared that lifting the ban at universities would erode Turkey’s secular nature and create pressure on all female students to cover themselves.
    Pious female students have been forced to remove their head scarves at the entrance to campuses. Some have attended classes wearing wigs.
    Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, banned religious attire in daily life. The ban has been vigorously enforced in public office and schools after a 1980 military coup.

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