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Turkey ends office ban on head scarves

ISTANBUL — The government on Tuesday lifted a ban on head scarves for female workers in state offices, ending a longstanding restriction that has polarized Turkish society.

The change, which went into effect immediately, was introduced as part of a series of measures aimed at bolstering democratic standards in the country, including improved rights for minority Kurds.

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The head scarf ban is one of the most emotionally charged issues in Turkey. It has long divided the country, pitting a rising group of religiously observant Turks who govern the country against a once-powerful secular elite that has struggled to regain control over the Turkish state.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long sought to address the concerns of the observant Muslims who helped sweep his Justice and Development Party into a parliamentary majority in 2002 and have delivered successive electoral victories to it since then. They have said the ban discriminates against observant women by keeping them out of public jobs.

Morning television programs showed female civil servants wearing head scarves to work for the first time since the early years of the Turkish Republic, which was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

The head scarf ban will remain in the military, police force, and judiciary, but government officials have hinted recently that the ban could soon be lifted in those sectors as well.

Religious attire was abolished by Ataturk as part of a concerted effort to orient the country toward the West by promoting secularism in Turkey, an abidingly religious and majority Muslim country.

The prohibition of head scarves at universities was lifted in 2011.

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