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Turkey's AK Party urges probe of rectors in scarf row
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's ruling AK Party urged state prosecutors on Thursday to investigate university rectors who have refused to implement new laws allowing female students to wear the Muslim headscarf on campus.
Many rectors have refused to recognise the Islamist-rooted government's decision to ease a ban on students covering their heads on campus. They say further legislation is required.
The rectors, along with the rest of a secular elite that also includes judges and army generals, say the reform is part of a government effort to erode the separation of state and religion in Turkey. The government denies any Islamist agenda.
"As far as I can see, the rectors are committing a crime. This is a matter for the state prosecutors," the state Anatolian news agency quoted AK Party Deputy Chairman Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat as saying.
"Depriving our daughters of the right to education because of their dress is a violation of the constitution," he said.
The AK Party says the issue is one of religious freedom in Turkey, a European Union candidate country. Two thirds of Turkish women wear the headscarf and opinion polls show a majority of Turks back the relaxation of the ban at university.
On Feb. 9, parliament approved constitutional amendments allowing female students to cover their heads and President Abdullah Gul signed them into law last week.
But on Wednesday the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) asked the Constitutional Court to quash the reforms on the grounds that they violate Turkey's secular constitution. It is unclear when the court will rule on the matter.
University rectors returned to the attack on Thursday against the reform, saying it had triggered chaos and tension.
"We had said there could be chaos in the universities (because of this reform). Now, unfortunately, this has come to pass," Mustafa Akaydin, head of the staunchly secular Inter-University Board grouping rectors, told a news conference.
"It has set students against one another. ... We fear that the dimensions of this tension will grow," he said.
Turkish newspapers have reported clashes this week at some universities between covered and uncovered women students amid legal confusion over when the reform is able to take effect.
Some universities have started to allow covered students onto their campuses while others have not, Turkish media say.
Secularists say allowing women to wear the headscarf in universities will gradually lead to social pressure on all women to cover their heads in Turkey and pave the way for discrimination against those who refused.
"My rector friends especially in universities in eastern Turkey say they are now under serious social and organisational pressure (to implement the reform)," said Akaydin.
Under the government's reform, the headscarf ban would still apply to women professors as well as to civil servants.
The headscarf ban in universities dates back to the 1980s but was tightened in 1997 when army generals, with public backing, ousted a government they deemed too Islamist. The army has remained largely quiet over the government's reform.
Many rectors insist the reform can only be enforced after parliament has amended a law governing YOK, the body that supervises Turkish higher education. The head of YOK, Yusuf Ziya Ozcan, siding with the government, says the reform is valid now.
Akaydin called for Ozcan's resignation and said the rectors would continue to fight efforts to deflect Turkey from what he called its "modern, civilised, secular" path.
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