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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2007, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Turkish PM urges end to scarf ban
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Mr Erdogan said the issue was the "first duty" of politicians to solve
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for the lifting of a ban on women wearing headscarves at state universities.

Mr Erdogan told the UK's Financial Times the ban was depriving some women of the right to higher education.

The PM's Islamist-rooted AK Party began drafting a new constitution after its landslide election victory in July.

The separation of religion and state enshrined in the current constitution is one of the key issues in the debate.

Separately, US Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burns has arrived in Turkey for talks.

He is expected to discuss tensions over Iran's nuclear programme and possible operations against Kurdish rebel forces when he meets Mr Erdogan late on Wednesday.

Symbol

Mr Erdogan told the Financial Times that resolving the headscarf issue was a priority.

"The right to higher education cannot be restricted because of what a girl wears," he said.

Hayrunisa and Abdullah Gul
The wife of President Abdullah Gul wears a headscarf

"There is no such problem in Western societies, but there is a problem in Turkey and I believe it is the first duty of those in politics to solve this problem."

Mr Erdogan has been supported by President Abdullah Gul, a member of the AK Party until his election as head of state last month.

Mr Gul told the Milliyet newspaper: "It is much better for [women who are covered] to go to university than to stay home and be isolated from social life."

The wives and daughters of both men wear the headscarf.

Turkey's secularist forces, including military and judicial leaders, oppose any moves they see as eroding the nation's secular system.

The headscarf has become a symbol of the threat to the continued separation of state governance and religion.

The university ban on headscarves was upheld in 2005 in the European Court of Human Rights, which said it might be needed to safeguard the secular order.

Mr Erdogan has always said his government will respect the separation.

Summer of turmoil

The current constitution evolved from the 1980 military coup and many politicians want to redraw it to bring it more into line with current standards of democracy.

"We want a constitution that is going to provide and protect a state that is a democratic, secular, social state of law," Mr Erdogan told the Financial Times.

Turkey endured a summer of political turmoil with secularist politicians organising mass demonstrations to try to block Mr Gul's presidential bid.

The stand-off triggered the snap elections in July.




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Female students affected by the current ban



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