Parliament approves elective Koran courses

Parliament approves elective Koran courses

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Parliament approves elective Koran courses

Demonstrators try to protect themselves as riot police use water cannon and tear gas to crack down on a rally in Ankara. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

Using water cannons and tear gas, police clamped down on protestors for a second consecutive day yesterday as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) pressed ahead with a education reform bill in Parliament.

The AKP submitted a proposal to explicitly list “Quran” and “The Life of the Prophet” as elective courses in secondary and high schools and to re-open the secondary stage of imam-hatip religious high schools, moving under pressure from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which was the first to propose a similar amendment.

The MHP proposal was rejected by AKP votes, but the ruling party then lodged its own motion and had it approved with MHP support. The AKP’s Nurettin Canikli said the vote was “historic,” while members of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) said the secular system had taken a blow.

Police crackdown
Hundreds of trade union members continued a demonstration in central Ankara, where they had converged the previous day, braving stern warnings from the authorities that they would not be allowed to hold a planned march to Parliament, just a kilometer away.

The demonstrators, called by the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK), spent the night in the streets, even though police had cracked down on fellow protestors in another part of the city. After a tense standoff of more than 24 hours, KESK chairman Lami Özgen insisted the crowd of some 2,000 people would march to Parliament and make a press statement there.

Defying the police’s warnings to disperse, the demonstrators attempted to start their march, but the security forces quickly responded with water cannons and pepper gas. Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies Levent Gök and Hüseyin Aygün were among the demonstrators the police dispersed.

A demonstrator was wounded when a pepper gas bullet hit his forehead. Some demonstrators said the police aimed to hit people in with pepper gas bullets. Journalists were also affected by pepper gas. Chanting “The imam’s army will be brought to account” and “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism,” the demonstrators dispersed within half an hour to side streets.

The Ankara Governor’s Office said it would launch legal action against the organizers.

Eight of the 27 articles of the bill had already passed late March 28. Disputes erupted when MHP deputy Celal Adan said the contentious bill would not solve the problems of imam-hatip schools. Adan said the AKP deputies had not resisted the military pressures during the “February 28 [1997] process.” AKP deputy Zülfü Demirdağ reacted harshly to Adan, and then Adan approached Demirdağ, leading to a quarrel between lawmakers.