Turks fear a government shift toward Islam Protesters condemn fundamentalism's treatment of women

February 16, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ANKARA, Turkey -- Thousands of Turks, most of them women, marched through the streets of Ankara yesterday in the first major public protest against the policies of the Islamic-led government.

Marchers carried signs and chanted slogans condemning what they believe are efforts to move Turkey closer to the Shariah, the strict law of the Koran, which imposes many restrictions on women.

"Let Turkey shout 'Down with Shariah,' " they chanted. One banner proclaimed, "Women's Rights Are Human Rights," while another said simply, "Women Exist."

Turkish secularists fear that moves toward Islamic fundamentalism here may set an example for other moderate Muslim countries, and the organizers of yesterday's march hoped the protest would prove that anti-fundamentalist sentiment remains widespread in Turkey.

Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, leader of the Muslim-oriented Welfare Party, is seeking to end restrictions on women's wearing veils or head scarves in the civil service and on public university campuses. He contends that he is simply defending freedom of choice, but critics believe he is using the issue as part of a campaign against secularism.

During his eight months in power, Erbakan has not imposed any major legal changes and has, in fact, stepped back from many of the radical proposals he made while in the opposition. Because he is the first Turkish leader since the founding of the Turkish Republic 74 years ago to strongly identify himself with Islam, many Turks deeply mistrust him.

Women played a crucial role in supporting the secular reforms decreed during the 1920s by the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and more than two-thirds of those who marched through a cold rain in Ankara were women.

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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