Protests in Turkey over call for 'religious Constitution'

Anti-riot police using tear gas on Tuesday to disperse demonstrators during a protest at Kadikoy district in Istanbul against a call for the country to adopt a religious Constitution.
Anti-riot police using tear gas on Tuesday to disperse demonstrators during a protest at Kadikoy district in Istanbul against a call for the country to adopt a religious Constitution.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ANKARA • Turkish police on Tuesday fired tear gas to break up protests over a call for the country to adopt a religious Constitution that has sparked concerns of creeping Islamisation in the traditionally secular state.

Officers in riot gear clashed with a crowd of more than 100 demonstrators outside Parliament in Ankara, and fired rubber bullets to disperse some 300 protesters in Istanbul's hip Kadikoy neigh- bourhood.

The row was caused by Parliament Speaker Ismail Kahraman, who on Monday said the predominantly Muslim country "must have a religious Constitution", alarming those worried that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is boosting Islamism.

Police also moved in to break up a protest in the coastal city of Izmir, one of Turkey's most secular cities.

Turkish society has been divided on the subject since the 1920s when the country's first president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk transformed the former Ottoman Empire into a secular nation-state, separating Islamic law from secular law. He created a modern republic, enforcing reforms from the emancipation of women to the abolition of all Islamic institutions.

But Turkey, which once had large Christian minorities, is now 99 per cent Muslim, and critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have accused him of trying to Islamise society.

The strongman reacted to the uproar during a press conference in the Croatian capital Zagreb, stating merely: "The state is at an equal distance between all religious groups, all beliefs."

Mr Kahraman's comments were slammed by MPs from Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party, the staunchly secularist party founded by Mr Ataturk.

The party's parliamentary group leader, Mr Levent Gok, called on Mr Kahraman to resign immediately. Shortly afterwards, Mr Kahraman released a statement saying that he had been expressing his own opinion, not that of his party.

Since the AKP's re-election in November last year, the government has said it wants to revamp Turkey's 1982 Constitution, drafted by the military junta which took power after a 1980 coup.

Several attempts so far have fallen flat, with opposition parties rejecting a move which would give Mr Erdogan sweeping powers.

But Mr Kahraman's comments worried defenders of the Constitution who fear the government is intensifying its campaign.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2016, with the headline 'Protests in Turkey over call for 'religious Constitution''. Print Edition | Subscribe