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Turkish court strikes down headscarf ban amendments

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Turkey [official website, in Turkish] Thursday struck down recent amendments to the country's constitution [text] designed to ease a ban on headscarves [JURIST report] in universities, finding that they violated the country's secular principles. Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party [party website] (AKP) had proposed the amendments to ensure equal access to higher education, but the pro-secular opposition Republican People's Party [party website, in Turkish] had appealed [JURIST report] to the Constitutional Court, saying the ban was necessary to protect the separation of religion and state. In February, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey passed [JURIST report] the amendments by a final vote of 403-107, and Turkish President Abdullah Gul approved [JURIST report] them shortly afterwards. AP has more.

Critics have contended that the constitutional amendments are only the most recent example of the Islamist-based AKP pushing a conservative religious agenda. AKP currently faces a legal challenge filed by Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya [official profile, in Turkish] to have the party legally dissolved [JURIST news archive] for not respecting Turkey's strict secular principles. In March, Yalcinkaya petitioned the court to disband the AKP and bar Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul [BBC profiles] from political office. In May, the AKP filed a response [IPS report] to the dissolution petition, arguing that shutting down the party would leave a political void and endanger Turkey's democracy.

6/6/2008: AKP officials called an emergency meeting [AP report; Hurryiet local report] Friday to discuss the ruling's implications on the prosecutor's case to dissolve the party. The ruling is seen as a possible judicial agreement with critics' charge that the AKP is pushing a conservative religious agenda. Party leaders initially attacked the ruling, leaders are expected to decide how to proceed at the Friday meeting.

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