Turkish students, teachers protest govt religious education

Published February 13, 2015
Police use tear gas to disperse scores of protesters boycotting schools over the growing influence of religion in the classroom in Ankara February 13, 2015. -Reuters
Police use tear gas to disperse scores of protesters boycotting schools over the growing influence of religion in the classroom in Ankara February 13, 2015. -Reuters

ANKARA: Hundreds of students and teachers across Turkey have boycotted school to protest the government's moves to increase Islamic teachings in education.

Thousands more marched on Friday in several Turkish cities holding up banners demanding a secular and science-based education system. Proponents of Turkey's secular traditions claim that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is building a more Islam-focused education, to realise his goal of raising “pious generations.”

The government has in recent years loosened a headscarf ban and increased the number of religious schools and classes.

Turkish police used water cannon in the city of Izmir and Ankara to disperse scores of protesters boycotting schools over the growing influence of religion in the classroom, local media reported.

Education is the latest flashpoint between the administration of President Tayyip Erdogan, and secularist Turks who accuse him of overseeing creeping 'Islamisation' in the Nato member state.

Riot police were out in force on Izmir's streets, with water cannon being used to disperse banner-waving demonstrators who had gathered in the centre of the city, according to pictures from Dogan news agency. At least one person was seen being led away by plain clothes security officers.

Parts of some regular schools have been requisitioned to create more places for students in “Imam Hatip” religious schools championed by Erdogan, where girls and boys are taught separately. Almost 1 million students are enrolled in those schools, up from 65,000 when AKP came to power in 2002.

The boycott was organised in cities across the country by a teachers union and associations from the minority Alevi community, the Hurriyet Daily News website reported.

Around ten people in Istanbul were detained by police, the paper added. A Reuters witness said hundreds of people, mostly school students, joined one protest in the city.

In 2013 Turkey was widely condemned for the brutal suppression of anti-government protests which saw hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets.

Despite deepening polarisation in the country, Erdogan remains hugely popular with his conservative religious voter base. But there is an increasing sense of hostility in some secularist parts of the population, disturbed by what they see as erosion of judicial independence.

Media reports said at least 10 people were detained in five Turkish cities for organising the boycott. Some students in the boycott visited science museums or attended lectures instead.

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