Turkey lifts headscarf ban in religious schools Ankara moves to lift immunity for Kurdish MPs

ISTANBUL, Nov 28, (RTRS): Turkey has lifted a ban on female students wearing headscarves in schools providing religious education, in a move drawing criticism from secularists who see it as fresh evidence of the government pushing an Islamic agenda.
Education has been one of the main battlegrounds between religious conservatives, who form the bedrock of support for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party, and secular opponents who accuse him of imposing Islamic values by stealth.
Those secularist fears were fuelled this year when Erdogan said his goal was to raise a “religious youth” and the AK Party, in power for the past decade, pushed through a reform of the education system which boosted the role of religious schools.
Under the latest regulation, announced on Tuesday and going into effect from the 2013-2014 academic year, pupils at regular schools will also be able to wear headscarves in Koran lessons.
Erdogan said the reform, which also ends a requirement for pupils to wear uniform, was taken in response to public demand.
“Let’s allow everyone to dress their child as they wish, according to their means,” he said at a news conference in Madrid on Tuesday.
“These are all steps taken as a result of a demand.”
Rivalry between religious and secular elites is one of the major fault lines in Turkish public life.
Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party has tamed the influence of the military — the self-appointed guardians of secularism since the modern republic was founded in 1923 — over the past decade, but he denies an Islamist agenda.
Last month the military top brass attended a reception in the presidential palace alongside the headscarved wives of the president and prime minister, something that until recently would have been unthinkable.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he was in favour of lifting the immunity from prosecution of Kurdish deputies accused of links to militants, a move which would likely fuel tensions in the mainly Kurdish southeast.
The comments came just a week after hundreds of militants ended a hunger strike in jail in response to an appeal from their leader and the government signalled it was open to talks to end a conflict which has killed more than 40,000 people.
Kurdish members of parliament are the subject of frequent investigations by prosecutors but deputies are immune from prosecution while they are in office, unless the assembly votes in favour of lifting their immunity.
Reporters asked Erdogan about incidents where Kurdish MPs had reportedly clashed verbally with Turkish security forces, but he said he did not want to talk about individual incidents.
“Our decision will be in favour of lifting the immunity from prosecution of those individuals who hide behind that immunity. After that it’s up to the judiciary,” he told a news conference before departing on a visit to Spain.
“I believe there should be a very different practice in parliament for those who take on the guise of being an extension of the separatist terrorist organisation,” Erdogan said, saying there were 800 such cases currently before parliament.
Among the most notable recent cases, a prosecutor called for 10 Kurdish deputies to be investigated on charges of aiding a terrorist group after they were filmed embracing militants at an impromptu roadside meeting.
The incident happened in August when Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants set up a roadblock and stopped a Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) convoy in southeast Turkey.
Kurdish politicians, including those from the BDP, are frequently prosecuted for alleged links to the PKK, but deny ties with the militants. Previous Kurdish parties similar to the BDP have been closed down for such links.
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, launched its insurgency 28 years ago and more than 40,000 people have since been killed.

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