Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday promised more reforms to tackle discrimination and hate crimes as four MPs entered the parliament wearing headscarves, breaking a long-standing taboo. Erdogan addressed the people of Turkey in a televised speech two days after the country celebrated the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Republic by opening an intercontinental undersea rail system. "Those who wear headscarves and those who don't, both are citizens and owners of this Republic, enjoying the same rights and freedoms," he said. "Preferring one over the other flies in the face of the principles of justice and equality." The Republic and democracy must go hand in hand, Erdogan said, as the former was only meaningful when accompanied by the latter. The arrival into the assembly of the four MPs, Sevde Beyazit, Gulay Samanci, Nurcan Darbulak and Gonul Bekin Sahkulubey, all members of Erdogan's Justice and Development (AK) Party, was largely uneventful, a far cry from the last time fourteen years ago. Headscarves are now allowed in all public offices except in the judiciary and military. Former Turkish MP Merve Kavakci had been forced to leave the assembly on her first day as MP amid a clapping protest on May 2, 1999.
"Moving forward, we will take further steps to prevent discrimination, alienation and hate crimes. We will bring amendments that will strengthen our brotherhood in all walks of life, especially in the political realm," Erdogan said.
Raising deterrence for hate crimes was one among a number of reforms Turkish Premier announced last month to enhance political freedoms and tackle rights violations.
Also included in the "democratization package" are freedom of education in different languages at private schools and a legal guarantee for preservation of personal data.
Erdogan led the inauguration ceremony Tuesday for Marmaray, a subway rail system that runs across the Bosphorus connecting the two sides of Istanbul, which straddles Asia and Europe.
Despite a bumpy run on its first day with a host of technical issues, Marmaray is hailed by the Turkish government as the "project of the century," realizing a dream held since Ottoman times.
"It was just a rehearsal of our centenary celebrations," Erdogan said.
"We want to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of our Republic not in dry speeches, polarizing rallies and cold ceremonies, but with great success and joy."
"We believe that the best gift we can offer to our Republic on its centenary would be to make it greater."