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Monday, May 3, 1999 Published at 01:19 GMT 02:19 UK

World: Europe

Headscarf row in Turkey parliament

Parliamentary dress codes do not mention headscarves

The first session of the newly-elected Turkish parliament has broken up in turmoil after a woman MP arrived for the swearing-in ceremony wearing an Islamic-style headscarf.

The newly elected MP Merve Kavakci, of the pro-Islamist Virture Party, refused demands to leave the chamber. Caretaker prime minister Bulent Ecevit accused her of violating the basic principles of the secular Turkish Republic.

Chris Morris in Ankara says the headscarf issue has overshadowed efforts to form a government
The session was adjourned while parliamentary officials tried to resolve the dispute. It was the first time the chamber had met since last month's elections, when Merve Kadakci was elected from Istanbul.

A new MP from the Nationalist Action Party (MPH) also wears an Islamic style headscarf but drew applause from other MPs when she approached the rostrum with her head uncovered and hair pinned back at the start of Sunday's ceremony.

The decision on headscarves rests with the acting speaker of parliament. By tradition, the oldest deputy president on the first day of the session sits in the chair.

Emotive symbol

The headscarf is an emotive symbol in Turkey, seen by secularists as the flag of political Islam threatening to overturn the strictly secular constitution. But Merve Kavakci has said she is determined to cover her head in accordance with her religious beliefs.

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said on Sunday that the headscarf issue was an "artificial" one which needed to be resolved without offence to the women concerned, the Turkish news agency Anatolia reported.

"We'll try to solve this artificial problem without offending those women who wear headscarves in their private lives.

"I will later call on our party assembly to discuss this issue if our party is given the mandate of forming the government," he said.

He called on members of his party to protest if Merve Kavakci entered parliament on Sunday wearing a headscarf.

[ image: President Suleyman Demirel is meeting party leaders]
President Suleyman Demirel is meeting party leaders
According to local news reports, Turkey's military leaders, who see themselves as the guardians of secularism, expressed serious concern about the issue at a meeting of the country's National Security Council on Friday.

The Islamist press called the ceremony a test of the new parliament's commitment to free expression.

BBC Ankara Correspondent Chris Morris says parliamentary dress codes say nothing specific about headscarves, but opponents say laws which forbid public servants to wear the scarf must apply in parliament, as well.

President Suleyman Demirel has met party leaders to discuss the formation of a workable coalition government. He is expected to announce the appointment of the new prime minister on Monday.

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