Monday, February 4, 2008

100,000 attend pro-secular rally in Turkey

From Turkish Daily News

More than 100,000 demonstrators flocked to Anıtkabir Saturday to demonstrate their opposition to the government’s headscarf move. Similar demonstrations took place in other provinces including İzmir, Antalya, Kayseri, Adana, Mersin, Sivas, Bartın, Bolu, Denizli, Çanakkale, Samsun, Bodrum and Zonguldak

The meeting led by women's organizations aimed to condemn the efforts of the government and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to lift the headscarf ban in universities turned into a huge pro-secularism rally in the capital Saturday with the participation of around 60 NGOs.

The protest came a few days after a large number of academics warned that lifting the ban would lead to chaos and clashes in universities and pave the way for Turkey to become a religious state.

More than 100,000 demonstrators led by the Republic Women's Association and the Association in Support of Contemporary Life (ÇYDD) flocked to Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of the Republic's founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, to demonstrate their opposition to the headscarf in universities, expressing their faith in Atatürk and his reforms. The crowd chanted slogans against the alliance between the government and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a move that will likely pave the way for women to wear the Islamic headscarf in state universities.

The images similar to those of the “Republican meetings” held last April and May in an effort to protest the possible presidential candidacy of President Abdullah Gül.

Protests spread throughout country

Similar demonstrations against the government's headscarf move have also spread to many other regions of the country including İzmir, Antalya, Kayseri, Adana, Mersin, Sivas, Bartın, Bolu, Denizli, Çanakkale, Samsun, Bodrum and Zonguldak over the weekend.

Crowds from every age group and gender gathered in Anıtkabir Saturday and chanted: “Tayyip, use headscarf to cover the head of Bahçeli (MHP leader)”; “Turkey is secular and will remain secular!” and “We are the soldiers of Atatürk,” while waving Turkish flags and denouncing Erdoğan's Islamist-rooted ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The representatives of the NGOs, led by ÇYDD Ankara Chairman Ülkü Günay, paid homage to Atatürk in front of his tomb where they placed a wreath of red and white carnations saying ‘For secular Turkey.' The group then sang the Turkish national anthem.

Günay wrote the following in the Anıtkabir visitors' book: “The reforms of the Republic are being abused by the ruling party [AKP] and its supporters for political reasons…Turkish women who managed to survive in dark times thanks to the republican reforms are now doomed to the headscarf, a symbol of captivity, which is now being dispalyed as a freedom. We are aware of this plot. We won't sacrifice our country to anti-revolutionary actions…”

Following the demonstration in Anıtkabir, some people wanted to march to the parliamentary building but police stopped them.

Meanwhile, the number of academics supporting the freedom to wear the headscarf reached 1,300. “We believe that universities are institutions which should exhibit a libertarian manner toward the freedom of speech, thought, faith and religion as well as basic human rights such as education,” they said in a written statement.

Erdoğan accuses opponents over plans to end headscarf ban:

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, meanwhile, accused opponents of the government's plans to end a ban on Islamic headscarves in universities of dividing society and making politics of Atatürk and his philosophy.

"Are you not dividing society by accusing those who do not think or dress like you of being enemies of secularism and the regime?" Erdogan said late Saturday in a certificate award ceremony in Istanbul. "Are you not contradicting the fundamental philosophy of the republic... by thinking that universal values, freedoms and liberties are only valid for you? Are you not doing the most harm to the regime by abusing our uniting common values such as the republic, secularism and Atatürk for the sake of your ideological and political arguments?”

Erdogan argued that secular forces had nothing to fear from the pious masses and said the AKP would make sure that everyone's rights, regardless of their religious convictions, would be protected.

"People who are devout and who cover their hair are in favor of secularism just like anyone else. They are committed to the values of the republic," he said, adding, “"If anyone sees their lifestyle under threat and feels social pressure, they should know that the secular system and we, the protectors of secularism, are their guarantee."

The AKP has won the support of the MHP for the planned changes and the two parties have the two-thirds parliamentary majority required to amend the Constitution. Parliament is expected to vote this week on the AKP-sponsored reform which seeks to amend the constitution to ease the decades-long ban on headscarves for university students.

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