[JURIST] The Grand National Assembly of Turkey [official website] Saturday formally passed the first of two proposed amendments to the country's constitution [text] that would ease a current ban on Islamic headscarves [JURIST report] and allow women to wear headscarves in universities. The measure, which passed by a final vote of 403-107, requires that everyone receives equal treatment from state institutions. The second amendment, recognizing equal rights to higher education, is expected to pass later today with the support of both Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party and the conservative Nationalist Movement Party [party websites]. The measures, preliminarily approved [JURIST report] earlier this week, must next go to Turkish President Abdullah Gul [official profile] for approval. Opposition parties have threatened to appeal to the judiciary if the amendments are adopted.
Meanwhile, for the second time this week, tens of thousands of secular Turks rallied in Ankara to protest the constitutional revisions. 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. The amendments would alter the constitution and Higher Education Law No. 2547 [HRW backgrounder] to allow scarves tied at the chin. Chadors, veils and burqas reportedly will still be banned. AP has more.