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Turkey PM pledges secularism in draft constitution

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said Turkey's draft constitution would guarantee secularism. The announcement comes a day after the speaker of parliament called for a religious constitution, prompting public uproar.

In a televised speech on Wednesday, Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey's secular and democratic character was "not up for debate."

"Secularism will feature in the new constitution we draft as a principle that guarantees citizens' freedom of religion and faith and that ensures the state is at an equal distance from all faith groups."

The prime minister's pledge on Wednesday was poles apart from

comments made by speaker of parliament Ismail Kahraman

a day earlier, in which he demanded an Islamic constitution.

"We are a Muslim country. That is why we need a religious constitution," said Kahraman, who belongs to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP party.

Kahraman later said his comments were "personal views" and that the new charter should guarantee religious freedoms.

Human rights and autonomy, key issues

Turkey is currently a secular state

with a clear differentiation between religion and state

, and the freedom of religion and culture. Although the document, implemented after a military coup in 1980, is different from the original constitution written after Kemal Atatürk established the Republic of Turkey, it still encompasses the secular values from the original version.

There have been several calls to introduce a new constitution, with opinions varying widely on what it should actually include. While activists want the new version to include more protections for human rights, Kurdish groups have demanded more autonomy for their people. President Erdogan's aim, however, has been to amend the charter and increase his powers as the head of state.

Erdogan's AKP has 317 of the 550 seats in the Turkish parliament and would need 330 votes to submit a draft version of the constitution for a referendum - meaning it would have to garner the support of opposition lawmakers to successfully change the document.

ksb/kms (Reuters, AFP)

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