Thousands march in defence of secularism in Turkey, following judge's murder

19/05/2006

Thousands of Turks joined a demonstration in Ankara on Thursday against the killing of a senior judge in a courtroom shooting. The gunman was angry over a ban on wearing the Islamic-style headscarf in Turkish public institutions.

(AFP, AP, FT, The Guardian, Independent, The New York Times, SBS - 19/05/06; Reuters, AFP, BBC, Euronews, AKI, Bloomberg - 18/05/06)

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Thousands attend the funeral of slain judge Mustafa Ozbilgin outside Kocatepe Mosque in central Ankara on Thursday (18 May). [Getty Images]

Tens of thousands of people marched in Ankara on Thursday (18 May) in defence of secularism in Turkey and in condemnation of a courtroom shooting the previous day, in which a senior judge was killed and four others were wounded.

Shouting "I am a soldier of Allah," the gunman, identified as Alpaslan Aslan, 29, stormed into the Council of State, Turkey's highest administrative court, on Wednesday. He shot at judges who were in the middle of a legal session.

Judge Mustafa Yucel Ozbilgin, 64, who was shot in the head, died after six hours on the operating table. The other four wounded during the incident were still in hospital Thursday, with at least one of them in intensive care.

Aslan, who was arrested on Wednesday, carried papers identifying him as an Istanbul lawyer. Police said he had admitted that the attack was in retaliation for a recent court ruling that a schoolteacher should not be promoted to the post of headmistress because she wore the headscarf on her way to and from work.

Several other people reportedly were detained in connection with the incident, which sparked the public protest Thursday.

Islamists have often attacked the Council for its strict upholding of Turkey's secular laws, especially the ban on wearing Islamic-style headscarves in universities and public offices.

Some 25,000 people marched to the mausoleum of the founder of the Turkish secular state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in Ankara on Thursday, voicing their support for secularism. "Turkey is secular and will remain secular," shouted the crowd, led by the president of the Council of State, Sumru Cortoglu, other senior jurists, university rectors and members of the general staff.

"We will not be intimidated," Cortoglu said after the march to the Ataturk mausoleum.

Denouncing Wednesday's attack, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a staunch secularist who has often clashed with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), described the incident as "a black stain" on Turkish history.

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"When you look at the attack, you see that it is not caused by personal animosity but ... targets the republic and particularly its unchangeable principles of democracy and secularism," the president said, pledging that all institutions "will forever defend the principles of the republic".

The AKP, which has its roots in political Islam, has disowned its origins, describing itself as simply "conservative". But it had also criticised the court's ruling and called for the easing of the headscarf ban, which dates back to the Ataturk era. Erdogan's wife wears a headscarf.

Although Erdogan condemned the attack on the judges, he faced fierce criticism on Thursday, according to the British daily Financial Times, for failing to attend Ozbilgin's funeral. The prime minister instead opted to participate in a conference in the tourist city of Antalya.

Thousands of people who gathered outside the mosque in Ankara for the funeral applauded Sezer on his arrival at the ceremony, while government ministers, including deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener, were pushed and booed. "Murderers get out" and "government resign", protestors shouted as security forces tried to clear a path for the officials.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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