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Tuesday, May 11, 1999 Published at 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK

World: Middle East

Headscarf ignites Iran-Turkey row

Merve Kavakci: Headscarves are banned as political and pro-Islamic

An international row has erupted over Iran's alleged support for a Turkish deputy who refuses to take off her Islamic headscarf in parliament.

The BBC's Chris Morris: "The Turkish Foreign Office felt compelled to complain"
The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Iran's ambassador to Ankara to complain about a demonstration staged last weekend in which students in Teheran shouted slogans in support of Islamist deputy Merve Kavakci.

Iran quickly responded, saying Turkey should not blame others for its own internal problems.

Turkey, which is officially secular, regards the wearing of the Muslim headscarf as a political, pro-Islamic statement and has banned them in public institutions.

Virtue Party ban

Ms Kavakci, a newly-elected woman Virtue Party deputy, re-ignited the debate over the place Islam holds in Turkey when she wore a Muslim headscarf in parliament.

She has refused to back down, with the full support of her party leader, Recai Kutan.

But Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit will not allow her to take her oath of office wearing a headscarf.

Turkey's chief prosecutor has already begun legal moves to ban the Virtue Party on the grounds that it is trying to overthrow the country's constitution by persisting with its support for Ms Kavakci.

This is the latest round in a long-running series of disputes between the two neighbouring countries, whose governments are ideologically at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Secularism was one of the main pillars of the modern Turkish state set up by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s.

Earlier warnings

Turkey's stance could hardly find a greater contrast than with the Islamic republic founded after the Iranian revolution twenty years ago.

In fact, the secular establishment in Ankara often cites Iran as an example of what could happen if political Islam in Turkey is allowed to rise unchecked.

Mr Ecevit has already warned Iran against trying to export its ideology across the border.

Iran and Turkey re-established normal diplomatic ties last year after a period of tension which began with public statements made by Iranian diplomats in support of the Turkish Islamist movement.

On Wednesday, the Turkish Parliament is due to reconvene for the first time since Ms Kavakci walked into the chamber wearing her headscarf at the beginning of the month.

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