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Daily Archives: June 5, 2008

Turkish court set to rule on headscarf law

by Hande Culpan*

Turkey's top court will consider today cancelling a law allowing women to wear Islamic headscarves in universities, in a case with possible repercussions for the survival of the country's ruling party.
The main opposition party has asked the Constitutional Court to abolish the law which was pushed through parliament in February by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which has its roots in a banned Islamist movement.
Opponents say the constitutional amendment allowing the headscarves poses a threat to Muslim Turkey's secular principles.
The case has taken on an added dimension amid ongoing legal efforts, also before the Constitutional Court, to have the AKP outlawed on charges that it is covertly seeking to install an Islamist regime.
Turkey's chief prosecutor has cited the headscarf amendment as evidence of the AKP's anti-secular leanings.
Legal experts are divided as to which way the 11-judge tribunal will go on the headscarf change. Seven of the judges are needed to annul the amendment.
In a non-binding report last month, the court's rapporteur recommended the case be thrown out, arguing that while the tribunal had the right to examine whether the passage of a constitutional amendment was procedurally flawed, it could not pass judgement on its essence.
But Hikmet Sami Turk, a former justice minister and a professor of constitutional law, said the court could rule that the amendment runs counter to an unchangeable provision of the constitution — that secularism be maintained.
"Since it is forbidden by law to even propose changes to the principle of secularism, the Constitutional Court could declare the amendment null and void," Turk said.
He also pointed to another option.
The amendment pushed through by the AKP makes no explicit mention of the headscarf, stating only that no one can be barred from education for reasons not clearly laid down by law.
Therefore, Turk argued, the court could deny the request to annul the law but at the same time specify that the amendment does not actually allow for the wearing of headscarves.
Whatever the court's ruling, the ramifications will be far greater than deciding what clothing is appropriate for women students.
If the court scraps the amendment, Turk said it would send a strong signal that it might also decide against the AKP when it rules later this year on whether the party should be banned.
The AKP has rejected accusations that it is seeking to install an Islamist regime in Turkey.
It also argues that the headscarf ban in universities — imposed in 1980 — violates both the freedom of conscience and the right to education.
Hardline secularists — among them the army, the judiciary and academics — see the headscarf as a symbol of defiance against the separation of state and religion, a basic tenet of the republic.
They say that 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.



Space station gets big Japanese lab room

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by Laurent Thomet*

Astronauts attached a bus-sized Japanese laboratory to the International Space Station on Tuesday, giving the orbiting outpost its biggest room and providing Japan with a key foothold in space.
Japanese†astronaut†Akihiko†Hoshide and American colleague Karen Nyberg used the station's robotic arm to slowly pull the 15-ton lab out of the cargo bay of shuttle Discovery, which docked on Monday, and attach it to its new home.
"Congratulations, we have a new Hope on the International Space Station," Hoshide said after the lab was hooked to the ISS.
Dubbed Kibo ("hope" in Japanese), Japan's first manned space facility is 11.2-metres long and has room for four astronauts. NASA's Destiny module is 8.5 metres long while Europe's Columbus facility measures 6.8 metres.
The astronauts were scheduled to activate the cylindrical Japanese Pressurised Module (JPM) yesterday and enter the lab for the first time at around 2052 GMT (0452 today Macau time).
Kibo's 10-metre robotic arm, which will manipulate materials and equipment for science experiments, will also be installed during the Discovery mission.
Shuttle Endeavour already brought one piece of the laboratory in March — a logistics module that will be used for storage.
The third and final part of the lab — an outdoor facility that will allow experiments to be exposed to the effects of space — will be delivered next year.
When completed, Kibo will allow astronauts to carry out experiments in space medicine, biology and biotechnology, material production, and communications, both in a pressurised environment and completely exposed to space.
The facility will be jointly monitored from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Tsukuba facility and NASA Mission Control in Houston, Texas.
"We are extremely happy to see the Kibo pressurised module attached at her permanent location," Tetsuro Yokoyama, deputy Kibo operations project manager, told reporters at a briefing at NASA's Johnson Space Centre in Houston.
The US space agency, which hopes to complete construction of the ISS in 2010, considers the station a central part of space exploration ambitions, allowing scientists to study the effects of microgravity on humans.
"It was an amazing day for the ISS program," station deputy program manager Kirk Shireman told reporters.
"We're very pleased to have the pressurised module of Kibo on board the International Space Station to its final home," he said. "We're well on our way to completing the ISS."
The Japanese module was installed after US astronauts Mike Fossum and Ron Garan removed its restraints inside the shuttle cargo bay during a more than six-hour spacewalk, about 338 kilometres above Earth.
The spacewalkers' first order of business was to disconnect a shuttle inspection boom from the station, where it had been left behind during the last mission in March to make room for the Kibo lab inside Discovery's cargo bay.
Hoshide then used the station's robotic arm to hand over the boom to Nyberg, who used the shuttle's robotic arm to return it to Discovery.
The spacewalk began almost one hour late, but Fossum and Garan made up for the lost time.
"Fantastic work by both of them," a NASA mission control official radioed Discovery pilot Kenneth Ham, who was choreographing the sortie, about three hours into the spacewalk.
Discovery arrived at the station Monday with seven astronauts on board, joining the ISS's three-man crew for a nine-day stay.