x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Turkish generals boycott ceremony in headscarf row

Army chiefs refuse to attend a banquet at the presidential palace because the president's wife wore an Islamic headscarf.

Turkish army chiefs boycotted an official ceremony at the presidential palace because the president's wife wore an Islamic headscarf, according to press reports.

The army's top brass were conspicuous by their absence late Friday at a banquet thrown by President Abbdullah Gul to commemorate the creation of the modern, secular Turkey in 1923.

The military organised a separate reception at the same time to give the generals an excuse not to accept the president's invitation, the reports said.

The secularist main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) also declined Mr Gul's invitation.

Turkey's First Lady has worn the hijab, which covers the head and neck, since adolescence.

The boycott was criticised by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose wife also wears the headscarf.

The army's generals, who see themselves as custodians of the Turkish republic, regard the headscarf as a threat to the state's secular traditions and are against any relaxation of the ban on wearing them in schools and government buildings.

Hayrunnisa Gul and Emine Erdogan, as well as a number of other wives of leaders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), all wear headscarves tied tightly over bonnets which completely conceal their neck and hair.

Mr Erdogan, who has led the Islamist-rooted conservative government since 2002 reproached the generals, saying "the armed forces should have been present" at the presidential palace.

In the past, generals have attended the banquet to celebrate the founding of the Turkish republic but this year the president extended the invitation to wives, meaning that women wearing the veil would be present.

Mr Gul, a former AKP cadre, has been pressing for a lifting of the ban on veils since he took office.

The ban on headscarves on university campuses was recently eased by the Higher Education Board, which used to be a bastion of secularism but is now headed by an Erdogan supporter.