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Daily Archives: February 11, 2008

Snow storms destroy one tenth of China

 Image  China has lost about one tenth of its forest resources to recent snow
storms regarded as the most severe in half a century, state media reported

Turkish lawmakers lift headscarf ban amid heavy protests

by Hande Culpan*

Turkey's parliament voted Saturday to lift a ban on Islamic headscarves at universities, handing victory to the Islamist-rooted ruling party as tens of thousands protested the deeply controversial move.
The constitutional reform package tabled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) received 411 'yes' votes in the 550-seat house, parliament speaker Koksal Toptan said.
The new legislation, which was backed by the opposition Nationalist Action Party, needed 367 votes to pass.
As parliament was voting, tens of thousands of people waving Turkish flags and carrying pictures of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, packed a square in downtown Ankara to voice their opposition.
Secularists — among them the army, the judiciary and academics — see the headscarf as a symbol of defiance against the strict separation of state and religion, a basic tenet of the mainly Muslim country.
"Turkey is secular and will remain secular," shouted the protesters, among them many women, including some wearing headscarves.
"What is being done today in parliament is to eliminate the republican regime and replace it with bigotry," Gokhan Gunaydin, from the organising committee, told the crowd to loud applause.
A police officer at the rally estimated that the crowd was less than 100,000 people while television channels put the number as high as 200,000. A similar demonstration drew more than 125,000 people last weekend.
"Tayyip, take your headscarf and stuff it," said the demonstrators in Ankara, calling on the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resign.
The AKP says the headscarf ban, which was imposed after the 1980 military coup, is a violation of the freedom of conscience and the right to education.
"Secularism, which does not mean irreligion, requires equal treatment of different religious beliefs," senior AKP lawmaker Sadullah Ergin told the NTV news channel after the vote.
"We have ended the different treatment of people on grounds of their religious beliefs," he added.
The package amends the constitution to read that the state will treat everyone equally when it provides services such as university courses and that no one can be barred from education for reasons not clearly laid down by law, an allusion to young women who wear headscarves.
It now needs to be approved by President Abdullah Gul, a former AKP member who has yet to veto any law put forward by the government.
But the controversy is far from over, as the Republican People's Party (CHP), Turkey's strictly secular main opposition, has threatened to challenge the reform at the constitutional court.
The ban, upheld by the country's highest courts, has been implemented at varying degrees over the years, forcing many women to abandon their education and others to hide their headscarves under wigs to attend classes.
The secular camp says easing the restriction in universities will put pressure on women to cover up and pave the way for the lifting of a similar ban in high schools and government offices.
Leading academics have warned there could be clashes on campuses and a boycott of classes by some female academics.
Some constitutional law experts meanwhile, have said that the amendments, criticised by some as hastily prepared, may not be enough to lift the restriction on their own.
"Some rectors may still refuse to allow students with headscarves on campus, citing a 1989 court ruling upholding the ban. We could have chaos," professor Ergun Ozbudun said in a recent newspaper interview.
The AKP has said it plans to amend the higher education law next to specifically say that nobody can be barred from education on account of their headscarf.
That change, however, has failed to satisfy women who cover their heads as it allows only the traditional head covering, which is more or less loosely knotted under the chin, while excluding the wrap-around version, which secularists see as a symbol of political Islam.