Turkey lifts ban on headscarves in public institutions

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday announced that his government would lift a ban on wearing headscarves in public institutions as part of reforms to boost rights.

“We are lifting the ban in public institutions,” said the prime minister.

Erdogan also announced democratic reforms seen as key to the stalled peace process with the country’s Kurdish minority.

He said rules preventing pro-Kurdish and other smaller parties from entering parliament would be changed, while Kurdish-language education would be permitted in private schools.

“This is a historic moment, an important stage,” Erdogan said at a press conference.

Kurdish names can be restored to towns in Turkey and a ban on Kurdish letters will be lifted, he said.

The reforms are designed to address the grievances of Turkey’s minority groups, in particular the Kurds, after a peace process with the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) stalled.

In March the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan declared a historic ceasefire after months of clandestine negotiations with the Turkish secret service.

In return for withdrawing its fighters, the PKK demanded amendments to the penal code and electoral laws as well as the right to education in the Kurdish language and a degree of regional autonomy.

The move raised hopes of an end to a nearly three-decade Kurdish insurgency in Turkey’s southeast that has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

But earlier this month the rebels announced they were suspending withdrawal of their fighters, accusing Ankara of failing to deliver the promised reforms.

Erdogan indicated Monday a 10 percent threshold required to secure seats in Turkey’s parliament will be scrapped, saying it was not introduced by his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Private schools will offer education in the Kurdish language, which has long been banned, Erdogan said.

The PKK is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey and many other countries.

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