Turks Protest Plan to End Scarf Ban

Ankara, Turkey — Tens of thousands of secular Turks rallied Saturday against a plan by the government to allow female students to wear head scarves in universities, a move they say will usher in a stricter form of Islam in Turkey.

The Parliament is expected to approve a constitutional amendment this week, sponsored by the governing Justice and Development Party, which has Islamist roots, and a nationalist opposition party, that is aimed at easing a 1989 ban on head scarves for students in higher education.

Secularists fear that lifting the ban would lead to heavy pressure on uncovered women to wear the Muslim garment.

“Turkey is secular and will remain secular,” shouted protesters as they waved national flags and banners of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revered founder of the republic who separated religion and state, at his mausoleum in Ankara, the capital.

The secular establishment, including army generals, judges and university rectors, sees the head scarf as a symbol of radical Islam and a threat to secularism. Turkey is 99 percent Muslim.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said at a news conference on Saturday that the measure was intended to expand freedom, to help turn Turkey into a “first-class democracy where freedoms in all fields are enjoyed fully.”