Turkey's parliament approves controversial Islamic education bill

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2004

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) Parliament passed legislation to help graduates of religious high schools enter universities, despite strong opposition from the deeply secular military and a likely veto by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

Lawmakers from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party which has Islamic roots and holds a majority in parliament said the measure rectifies disadvantages religious school graduates face in taking state-run university entrance exams.

Under current law, graduates of high schools that train imams have easy access only to theology departments at universities.

Many critics say religious schools are breeding grounds for political Islam and that the new law would encourage religious-school graduates to become lawyers and teachers or hold government posts and undercut the nation's secular traditions.

The military, which forced Turkey's first Islamic government out of power in 1997, issued a statement criticizing the legislation.

If Sezer, a firm believer in Turkey's secular traditions, vetoes the bill as expected, the government would risk raising tensions with the military by overriding the veto.

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