Amnesty for Turks expelled for wearing religious headscarves

March 4, 2005

The Turkish Parliament has passed an amnesty for nearly 700,000 students expelled from university since 2000, including women banned for wearing headscarves for religious reasons.

Although Turkey is a Muslim country, it is a strict secular state and religious dress in public buildings, including universities, is forbidden.

The amnesty by the Islamic-oriented government is in response to pressure from its own supporters.

But the legislation has been condemned as populist. Last week, Erkan Mumçu, the Minister of Culture, resigned from the Government and party in response to the policy.

University rectors also attacked the decision, as did the higher education authority (Yok).

Alaadin Dincer, chair of the Education Workers' Union, said: "The amnesty offers a second chance to a significant number of students."

But the headscarf ban remains in force. Political commentators have warned that the amnesty could spark a renewal of demonstrations and protests as students expelled under the amnesty try to re-enter university.

Huseyin Celik, the Minister of Education, is expected to introduce a higher education reform package in the coming months that will include a reversal of the hardscarf ban.

A similar attempt last year was withdrawn after strong opposition.

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