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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April, 2003, 19:11 GMT 20:11 UK
Headscarf row mars Turkey festivities
Turkish woman reads Koran in a mosque
The headscarf is considered a symbol of political Islam
The wife of the parliamentary speaker in Turkey has decided not to attend one of his official receptions because of a row over her wearing an Islamic-style headscarf.

Earlier, Turkey's powerful military, the president and also several opposition figures - who consider themselves guardians of the secular republic - warned that they would boycott the event if she attended in a headscarf.

The speaker, Bulent Arinc, said Turkey did not need the issue turning into a crisis, adding that "it was extremely saddening that my wife has become the focal point of this debate".

No-one would benefit from bringing an issue to a point of tension and then carrying Turkey from this tension to a crisis
Turkey's parliamentary speaker Bulent Arinc
Secular regulations in Turkey - an overwhelmingly Muslim country - ban women from wearing headscarves in public buildings.

But the BBC's Jonny Dymond in Istanbul says that for many Turks the issue is irrelevant, and has been blown out of proportion by both sides of the debate over the role of religion in public life.

'Battle for Turkey'

The row broke out as Mr Arinc was preparing to host a reception marking the 83rd anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Parliament.

He announced that his wife would not attend the function in order to avoid further tension on the issue.

"No-one would benefit from bringing an issue to a point of tension and then carrying Turkey from this tension to a crisis," Mr Arinc said.

Our correspondent says that for the devout and the strictly secular the issue has become a symbol of the wider battle over what kind of state Turkey should be.

The military have already warned the governing Islamist Justice and Development Party against changing the strict regulations on the wearing of headscarves in universities.

Our correspondent says the row is a fresh warning by Turkey's establishment to a government that has been less than sure-footed in recent months.

He says that there are lines that no government - whatever its majority - can cross.

Turkey: Battle of the headscarf
22 Jul 02  |  Islamic world

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