Turkish official stirs up furor over co-ed schools

AKP official says boys and girls mixing up together in school ‘mistake’

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A senior member of Turkey’s ruling party stirred up a new furor on Thursday over the imposition of Islamic values in the country, saying it was a "big mistake" to allow boys and girls to study together.

The comments by deputy parliament speaker Sadik Yakut followed a storm of controversy over a push by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month to do away with mixed-sex dorms at universities.

Erdogan’s Islamist-leaning government has increasingly come under fire over what critics see as attempts to enforce Islamic norms in the predominantly Muslim but staunchly secular country.

“Having girls and boys educated at the same schools in the name of a pro-West approach is unfortunately a mistake that has been made from the past up until now,” Yakut told a parliamentary gathering.

Yakut, a member of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), said the situation would be “corrected” soon, without elaborating.

Yakut’s comments drew criticism from the main opposition secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), with women lawmakers accusing him of being backward minded.

“It is complete nonsense to talk about these things in the 21st century,” CHP deputy head Perihan Sari said in parliament.

Another CHP lawmaker, Aylin Nazliaka, asked: “When will you make women sit behind curtains?”

Erdogan earlier this month said the government would act to stop male and female students living together in university dorms, ordering governors of the country’s 81 provinces to monitor student residences and speak out against immoral behavior.

Critics say that Erdogan’s 11-year rule has left Turkish society more polarized than ever, with opponents of the government openly voicing concerns that Turkey is sliding toward conservative Islam.

Last month, four female AKP lawmakers wore headscarves in parliament for the first time, breaking a long taboo.

And this week, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc angered Greece when he voiced hope that Hagia Sophia, an ancient Byzantine complex in Istanbul, be converted into a mosque.

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