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Saturday, 23 September, 2000, 07:17 GMT 08:17 UK
Turkish scarf ban penalises students

A row over headscarves cost this woman her parliamentary seat last year
By Chris Morris in Ankara

As the new academic year begins in Turkey, thousands of female students are being prevented from entering their universities and colleges because they want to wear the Islamic style headscarf.

The students say their human rights are being infringed but influential figures in the state education system insist that wearing the scarf is a statement of political intent and current laws allow them to ban it.

On the first day of term at the beginning of the week men wearing beards were also banned because facial hair is seen by some defenders of Turkish secularism as an expression of Islamic identity.

Now the beards have been let in but the women wearing headscarves are still locked out.

Mixed picture

There are protests at state universities around the country, but it is a mixed picture.

Some faculties at Ankara university for example are not enforcing a ban. It all depends on individual decisions made by professors and administrators.

The secular elite which has ruled modern Turkey for more than 75 years says the head scarf has become a disruptive political symbol.

The students involved insist they wear the scarf because of their religious beliefs, not because of political ideology.

It is an issue which goes to the heart of Turkey's complex effort to define the role of the state and the role of religion in society.

And as the dispute goes on it is claiming many victims. One human rights group estimates that last year alone more than 16,000 women were prevented from entering universities or taking exams because they refused to remove their scarves.

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