Four Turkish MPs attend parliament in head scarves, first time in 15 years

Thu Oct 31, 2013 11:36am EDT
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By Gulsen Solaker and Jonathon Burch

ANKARA (Reuters) - Four female lawmakers from Turkey's Islamist-rooted ruling party wore Islamic head scarves in parliament on Thursday in a challenge to the country's secular tradition.

Fellow Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers kissed and hugged the women as they took their seats in the general assembly.

Secularist opponents made only subdued protests, a far cry from chaotic scenes in 1999, the last time a female MP wore a head scarf in parliament.

The head scarf is an emotive symbol in Turkey, viewed by secularists as the emblem of political Islam and its appearance in public life as an affront to the Turkish Republic's secular foundations set up by founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

There are no specific restrictions on wearing the head scarf in parliament. But opposition from secularists as well as a ban in other state institutions, which was lifted this month, have previously deterred women from wearing them.

"We are going to witness the start of an important era and we will play the leading role, we will be the standard-bearers, this is very important," Nurcan Dalbudak, one of the four AKP lawmakers, told Reuters before attending parliament.

Turkey's main opposition and secularist Republican People's Party (CHP), which said it would contest the move, put up little resistance on the day. One MP wore a t-shirt picturing the face of Ataturk and the Turkish flag in protest while others offered sporadic jeers.

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Turkey's ruling Ak Party (AKP) lawmakers Nurcan Dalbudak (C) and Sevde Beyazit Kacar (R) attend the general assembly wearing their head scarves at the Turkish Parliament in Ankara October 31, 2013. REUTERS/Umit Bektas