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2007-07-25
Ankara, Turkey
Pious Turks hopeful but patient on Religion reform
Many Turks who put the AK Party back in power hope a second term will improve religious freedom, but they also say that opposition could mean another generation of women will have to choose between university and the veil.

The party with roots in political Islam won 47 percent of the vote in Sunday's parliamentary elections, the first party in 50 years to win a second term with increased support.

For many voters, a major issue along with the economy was the right to wear the Muslim headscarf in parliament, universities and public buildings where it is now banned, and other religion-linked issues such as easing restrictions on students of religious schools entering university.

"If they don't solve the headscarf issue, there will be real disappointment," said unemployed shop assistant Dondu Buyukterzi. "God willing, there won't be disappointment."

But Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, often combative towards his political opponents, gave a conciliatory election-night speech, making some think he will take his time on religious reforms so as not to irk the powerful, arch-secular army.

Several women in Ankara reckoned they would have to wait years to be allowed to wear headscarves more freely.

Sumeyra Er, 22, said at university classmates told her they had never met a girl in a headscarf before and had thought covered women were all fanatics. Er ditched her degree when a ban on headscarves on campus was extended to the university bus.

"This is not something they can solve in five years," she said. "Slowly slowly they will make people warm to the idea. They have to show people our objective isn't a bad one."

Both women hope a government initiative to lift a ban in public buildings will encourage private companies, who are reluctant to employ covered women, to do so, and to let them pray at work.

CONCILIATION

Newly elected AK Party deputy Zeynep Dagi said the headscarf issue would be treated along with other reforms aimed at increasing democracy and freedom.

"In a natural period it will be solved. It takes time," she told Reuters. "All issues of freedom need to be taken in hand ... All these issues will be dealt with."

Dagi is one of several new -- uncovered -- women deputies, who analysts say Erdogan chose to improve the party's modern, centrist image. The headscarf is banned in parliament.

Erdogan's election-night words, including a reference to the founder of the secular republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, even reassured one of his harshest critics, the Ataturk Thought Association.

"If he is sincere ... then there's no problem," Ali Ercan, deputy head of the association which helped organised huge pro-secular rallies earlier this year. "I'm not pessimistic."

"They got 46 percent of the vote because of the expectations they gave, not because of religion ... because of economic stability."

"The AK Party were really the ones who best learnt the lesson from the rallies," he said.

Many secularists will hope he is right, although grassroots religious supporters are banking on the government's ability to bring them around, eventually. Meanwhile they wait.

"God gives us strength and patience," Er said.

Source: News Agency Reuters
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