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Monday, May 3, 1999 Published at 20:07 GMT 21:07 UK


World: Europe

Headscarf deputy stands ground

Merve Kavakci could be tried for wearing a headscarf in parliament

By Chris Morris in Ankara

The woman at the centre of a dispute about wearing the Islamic-style headscarf in the Turkish parliament has said she has no intention of backing down.

Merve Kavakci, a newly-elected deputy from the pro-Islamist Virtue Party, said the Turkish constitution guaranteed her freedom of religious belief.


[ image: Bulent Ecevit: parliament symbol of secular state]
Bulent Ecevit: parliament symbol of secular state
Earlier on Monday veteran secular politician Bulent Ecevit was given a mandate to try to form a new government following last month's general elections.

But Merve Kavakci has set herself on a collision course with the secular establishment.

A state prosecutor is investigating whether she might be put on trial for provoking religious hatred after she appeared in parliament on Sunday wearing a headscarf.

Although Turkey is predominantly Muslim no-one has ever worn the headscarf in the parliamentary chamber.

Mr Ecevit, acting prime minister, said parliament was the symbol of the secular state and Miss Kavakci must be put in her place.

But she launched a counter-attack sure to upset Turkey's powerful military leaders.

Search for a government

She suggested the mothers and wives of soldiers killed in action fighting Kurdish separatists would be disenfranchised if a covered woman was not allowed to sit in parliament.

Most women in Turkey do wear the headscarf, but a large majority of them also have no wish to see religion play a direct role in politics.

The dispute remains unresolved as Mr Ecevit begins the search for coalition partners.

He may well have to work with the hard-line right-wing Nationalist Action Party, but the pro-Islamist Virtue Party, of which Miss Kavakci is a member, can safely be crossed off his list.



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