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Turkey must drop headscarf ban to aid EU entry bid: FM

[JURIST] Turkey needs to lift its ban on women wearing headscarves at universities in order to improve the country's chances of accession into the European Union (EU) [JURIST news archive], Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said Saturday. Turkey's Grand National Assembly [official website, in Turkish] is considering a bill [JURIST report] that would amend the country's constitution to allow for headscarves in universities and public offices. While the EU has not specifically told Turkey to lift its ban on headscarves, it has pressed Turkey to increase freedom of expression and minority rights. The headscarf bill was drafted in response to recent calls [JURIST report] from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [IHT profile] for the government to lift the ban. Reuters has more.

Meanwhile, approximately 125,000 Turks, comprised of mostly women, rallied in Ankara Saturday to protest the proposed bill, arguing that the bill will pressure them to cover their bodies as well. Headscarves and other forms of Muslim traditional religious dress [JURIST news archive] are banned from many public places in modern Turkey, a majority Muslim country despite official secularism. Supporters of the ban, largely secularists, say the ban on headscarves is necessary to protect the separation of religion and state. Erdogan has repeatedly called for an end to the ban, saying it effectively denies some Muslim women access to higher education [JURIST report], but secularists believe that Erdogan's insistence on ending the ban is a political statement against secular principles. Members of secular parties, including the Republican People's Party [party website, in Turkish] and the Democratic Left Party [party website, in Turkish], have threatened to appeal to the judiciary if parliament approves the bill lifting the headscarf ban. AP has more.

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