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Erdogan praises Turkey MPs for headscarves in parliament

Published: Updated:

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday the “will of the people had prevailed” after four female lawmakers wore headscarves in parliament for the first time in years, breaking a taboo in the staunchly secular country.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lifted in September a decades-old ban on headscarves in the civil service as part of a package of reforms meant to improve democracy and freedoms.

“The will of the people has prevailed in parliament,” said Erdogan, evoking a “historical atmosphere” when the MPs from the AKP entered wearing the headscarf on Thursday.

He also sought a more reassuring tone in his statements quoted in Turkish newspapers on Friday. “Women who do wear headscarves and women who do not are all full members of this republic,” he said.

But the government is under fire for what critics say are creeping efforts to force Islamic values on the predominantly Muslim country.

The highly charged headscarf debate lies at the heart of Turkey’s divisions between religious conservatives, who form the bulk of Erdogan’s AKP supporters, and more secular members of society.

In 1999, Turkish American lawmaker Merve Kavakci arrived in parliament wearing a headscarf for her swearing-in ceremony but she was booed out of the house and then had her Turkish citizenship revoked.

A former Islamic firebrand, Erdogan has brought relative economic and political stability to Turkey since he came to power in 2002.

But in June Erdogan’s government was hit by a wave of unrest as tens of thousands of protesters calling him a “dictator” raged against what they said was his increasingly iron-fisted, conservative-leaning style of governance.