updated 6/6/2008 8:25:42 PM ET 2008-06-07T00:25:42

Turkey's Islamic-oriented governing party on Friday accused the country's top court of overstepping its authority when it struck down a law that would have allowed Muslim head scarves to be worn at universities.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party campaigned for re-election last year on a promise to lift a ban on head scarves, claiming the prohibition violated religious and personal freedoms. Upon victory, the government passed constitutional amendments to lift the ban.

But the court threw out the amendments Thursday, saying they violated Turkey's secular principles. The decision, which is final, threw up a heavy legal barrier to any further attempts to lift the ban and has deepened the divide between the Islamic-leaning government and secular institutions.

"The decision is a direct interference with parliament's authority," said Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat, the ruling party's deputy chairman. "It is a violation of the rule on the separation of powers."

Though most of Turkey's 70 million people are Muslim, many see the head scarf as an emblem of political Islam and consider any attempt to allow it in schools as an attack on modern Turkey's secular laws. Some also argue that lifting the ban would create pressure on all female students to cover themselves.

Turkey's fiercely secular military signaled satisfaction with the court's decision to uphold the ban, which has been vigorously enforced in public offices and universities since a 1980 military coup.

The Constitutional Court's ruling does not bode well for Erdogan's party, which faces the threat of being dissolved under a separate case filed by a prosecutor on grounds it is "the focal point of anti-secular activities."

Erdogan has kept silent on the court decision. But Firat said the prime minister would discuss the ruling with his fellow lawmakers in parliament Tuesday.

'It gives me goose pimples'
Parliament Speaker Koksal Toptan was expected to hold a news conference Saturday on the issue.

Another top party member, Bulent Arinc, described the decision as "grave."

"It gives me goose pimples," said Arinc, a former parliament speaker. "The Constitutional Court has indirectly seized the power of parliament."

Dozens of people, including some women wearing black chadors, protested the ruling Friday in Ankara. A placard left outside the court building read: "No one can go against God's order to wear head scarves."

Hundreds of people also protested the court ruling in Istanbul and in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, following Friday prayers.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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