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Europe

Turkish Court Annuls Controversial Headscarf Law

In a major blow for the prime minister and his Islamist-rooted party, Turkey's top court ruled Thursday against easing a ban on women wearing headscarves at universities.

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The headscarf debate has polarized Turkey

In a brief statement, Turkey's constitutional court said it scrapped the law to ease a ban on headscarves being worn on university campuses because it violated the constitution's secular principles.

The headscarf amendment, pushed through by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), was cited by the country's chief prosecutor as a key piece of evidence in his pending bid to outlaw the party on charges that it is covertly seeking to replace the secular order with an Islamist regime.

The private NTV television station reported that the court's decision was split nine judges to two.

Blow to Erdogan's party

The ruling, by a panel of 11 judges, is a blow to the ruling AK Party and could influence the outcome of a separate court case in which the AK Party could be banned for anti-secular activities.

Some 71 members of the party, including the prime minister and the president, could also be banned from belonging to a political party for five years on charges of being "the focal point of anti-secular activities."

Staunch secularists see the government's moves to allow the headscarf in universities as proof that the AKP seeks ultimately to introduce shariah (Islamic) law in Turkey.

The government has responded that the bans currently in place are a violation of the right to freedom of religion. The AK Party also argues that a headscarf ban stops many girls being educated in Turkey.

Justice Minister Cemil Cicek on Thursday evening refused to comment on the verdict, saying he would wait for the court to publish details about its decision.

Opposition Republican People's Party leader Deniz Baykal said he was not happy but instead sad that his party was forced to go to the court to seek the annulment in the first place.

"If only our calls had been listened to, then this court and verdict would not have been (necessary) to give," Baykal told reporters.

A spokesman for the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) who had sided with the AKP to allow the reforms to pass said that his party did not agree with the decision, but they would respect it.

The constitutional reforms were originally passed by parliament in February by a margin of 411 to 103.

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