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Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 15:07 GMT
Turkish headscarf ban questioned
Turkish girl reads Koran at Hadji Bayram mosque in Ankara
The headscarf is considered a symbol of political Islam

The headscarf debate - one of Turkey's most controversial issues - is hotting up again following the landslide election victory of the Justice and Development Party.

The party, which now has a comfortable majority in the new parliament, is trying hard to convince the establishment that it does not pose a threat to the country's secular system.

Its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is choosing his words carefully and trying to steer clear of controversial issues.

For Turkey, lifting the ban on headscarves may prove to be more difficult than abolishing the death penalty.

Ban tightened

Mr Erdogan's party, which tried hard to avoid the issue during the election campaign, is now once again forced to deal with it.

Erdogan with wife at polling station
Erdogan's wife wears a headscarf

The Turkish press is asking what will happen if the prime minister's wife turns up at an official reception wearing a headscarf.

Wearing the Islamic-style head covering is banned in Turkish government offices, schools and universities.

Enforcement of the ban has been tightened since 1997, when the country's first Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, was forced by the military to step down.

The subsequent closure of his Welfare Party by the Constitutional Court was partly due to one of its female members of parliament wearing a headscarf in the assembly.

The Justice and Development Party has always avoided confrontation over the headscarf issue and decided not to put forward any female candidates wearing an Islamic head covering.

Seeking consensus

Mr Erdogan chose to educate his daughters abroad, but his wife wears the kind of head covering which is considered a symbol of political Islam.

For legal reasons Mr Erdogan cannot become prime minister, so the party has to nominate another candidate. Mr Erdogan's deputy, Abdullah Gul - regarded as the strongest candidate - also has a wife with a headscarf.

Party leaders say they will not ignore this issue but try to solve it during their term in office by achieving a public consensus.

Mr Erdogan has indicated that they may try to lift the ban on university students first - but he has warned that he will not allow the issue to be exploited by either the religious extremists or the staunch secularists.

Turkey's election

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07 Nov 02 | Europe
22 Jul 02 | Islamic world
01 Jan 02 | Europe
06 Nov 02 | Country profiles
07 May 99 | Europe
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