- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

ANKARA, Turkey | Turkey’s top court ruled Thursday that Islamic head scarves violate secularism and cannot be allowed at universities, deepening a divide between the country’s Islamist-oriented government and secular institutions.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government tried to allow scarves at universities as a matter of personal and religious freedom.

But the Constitutional Court verdict said constitutional amendments passed by parliament in February went against secularism.

The head-scarf issue is an explosive one in Turkey, where the government is locked in a power struggle with secular groups that have support from the military and other state institutions.

The decision is likely to bode ill for the government. Turkey’s chief prosecutor is seeking to disband the ruling party on grounds it is “the focal point of anti-secular activities” in a separate case at the Constitutional Court. The prosecutor - who has also asked that Mr. Erdogan and other party officials be banned from politics for five years - has cited attempts to allow head scarves at universities as a case in point.

Many see the head scarf as an emblem of political Islam, and consider any attempt to allow it in schools as an attack against modern Turkey’s secular laws.

The government did not immediately comment . Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said the government would like to see the court’s reasoning behind the decision before commenting.

But Bekir Bozdag, a senior lawmaker of the ruling party, said, “the Constitutional Court has overstepped its power and interfered in democracy.”

“However, this verdict is binding and will be obeyed,” he added.

Devlet Bahceli, the leader of a nationalist party that backed the amendments, predicted the decision would accelerate “the divide over religion.”

The court’s 11 judges voted 9-2 to annul the amendments, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. At least seven votes are required to disband the party.

A brief statement from the court said the amendments were annulled because they were in violation of some articles of the Constitution, including one that states “The Turkish Republic is a secular state” and another that says altering the secular nature of the state “cannot even be proposed.”

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