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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 21:24 GMT
Turkey grants student amnesties
By Jonny Dymond
BBC news correspondent in Istanbul

Turkish women outside Istanbul university protest the headscarf ban in schools and universities
Both sides claim the other uses the headscarf as a political symbol
The Turkish parliament has granted an amnesty to 677,000 men and women who have been expelled from university over the past five years.

The amnesty includes those expelled from university because their refusal to remove the Islamic headscarf.

However, the regulation restricting the scarf remains in place.

Turkey maintains a division between religion and state which includes a ban on the headscarf in universities and the civil service.

Only a small minority of those expelled from Turkish universities over the last five years fell foul of the headscarf ban, but such is the controversy over it that the ban dominated debate before the amnesty issue came to parliament.

'Freedom of expression'

Nearly 10 years after the restriction came into force, the two sides - religious Muslims and the secular establishment - are no closer to consensus.

The secular establishment insists that the ban maintains the separation of religion and state enshrined in the constitution.

More orthodox Muslims and human rights campaigners complain that it is an abrogation of freedom of expression and worship.

A clear majority in Turkey, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, would like to see the ban lifted.

In parliament, one deputy complained that his governing party was being too timid - he wanted the ban removed altogether.

But the government appears to have accepted that it cannot legislate against the will of the secular establishment.

Those who continue to wear a headscarf may now reapply to university, but they will not be allowed to study.


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