Sun, Jun 08, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Turkish ruling party attacks ban


Demonstrators in Istanbul shout slogans on Friday to protest a headscarf ban, a day after the ban was upheld by Turkey’s top court. The banner reads: “An end to the law of slavery!”


Turkey’s ruling party on Friday denounced a court’s upholding of a ban on the Islamic headscarf in universities, after an emergency meeting of the Islamist-rooted group that itself risks being outlawed.

The country’s Constitutional Court on Thursday annulled a Justice and Development Party (AKP) law allowing women to wear Islamic headscarves in universities, on the grounds that it violated Turkey’s secular system, enshrined in an unchangeable constitutional article.

Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat, vice-president of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP, said the court’s decision “violated” the separation of powers by overruling a majority vote in parliament.

“It is an unprecedented verdict which will be debated for a long time,” he told reporters after the six-hour meeting.

The prime minister cut short a visit to Istanbul to return to Ankara to chair the meeting. Firat said Erdogan, who did not speak to reporters afterwards, would address AKP members of parliament over the issue on Tuesday.

The law in question was the principal argument advanced by Turkey’s chief prosecutor when he asked the Constitutional Court in March to ban the AKP, on charges that it is seeking to install an Islamist regime in the country.

Some party members have even suggested Erdogan should call snap elections after the ruling, media reports said.

The judgement was largely seen as strengthening the prosecutor’s hand in his bid to outlaw the AKP and bar 71 officials, among them Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, from politics. The verdict is expected later this year.

Since the court “sees the headscarf amendment as a breach of the republic’s basic principles, it will give the gravest punishment to the party which is responsible for this act,” the Vatan newspaper wrote.

“A decision to close down the AKP has become inevitable,” it said.

The annulment of the headscarf amendment is Erdogan’s “greatest political defeat” since the AKP came to power in 2002, the liberal Radikal daily wrote.

Overriding fierce objections by secularists, the AKP pushed the amendment through parliament in February, boosted by its re-election for a second five-year term in July with nearly 47 percent of the vote.

The party, the offshoot of a now-banned Islamist movement, says it is committed to secularism, but argues that the headscarf ban in universities violates both the freedom of conscience and the right to education.

But hardline secularists — among them the military, the judiciary and academics — see the headscarf as a symbol of political Islam and defiance of the secularist system.

The AKP, backed by a number of jurists, slammed the Constitutional Court for overstepping its jurisdiction, saying it can examine only procedural flaws in constitutional amendments, and not their essence.

Senior AKP member Bulent Arinc ahead of the party meeting accused the tribunal of “abusing its powers” and interfering in parliament’s legislative realm.

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