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Turkish ban on headscarves loosens

ISTANBUL — Four female lawmakers wearing headscarves walked into Turkey’s Parliament in Ankara on Thursday, marking an end to the ban on the Muslim symbol in the chamber that was imposed in the early days of the Turkish Republic.

Still, the issue of where women can wear headscarves remains highly charged in this Muslim-majority country, which was founded in 1923 under strict secular principles, but where a desire for public religious expression has spread in recent years.

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The restrictions on headscarves in government buildings were loosened as part of reforms aimed at boosting democracy unveiled by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in September.

The ban remains in place for judges, prosecutors, and military and security personnel.

The four lawmakers — Sevde Beyazit Kacar, Gulay Samanci, Nurcan Dalbudak, and Gonul Bekin Sahkulubey — are members of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, abbreviated as AKP, which has Islamist roots and has gained a strong following in this nation of 74 million.

The AKP’s reform package has been criticized by Turks fearing the rise of Islam in the official sphere, but lawmakers from the main secular opposition party, CHP, said it had decided not to react to the four lawmakers’ actions Thursday, although some of its members accused the ruling party of trying to exploit the issue for political gain.

The CHP was formed by Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who championed headscarf bans in the 1920s.

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