Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey still needed time to achieve a compromise that would lead to the lifting of a much-disputed headscarf ban in universities, Anatolia news agency reported Sunday.
Erdogan, whose wife and two daughters cover their heads, is opposed to the ban, but his government has failed to abolish it thanks to a wary secularist establishment, which sees the Islamic cover as a symbol of defiance of the mainly Muslim nation's secular order.
Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), widely expected to again emerge first from legislative elections next Sunday, has omitted the issue from its election manifesto.
"We wish that all [women] can go freely to university, regardless of whether they cover their heads or not," Anatolia quoted Erdogan as saying overnight.
He said that Turkish society was in favor of lifting the ban "but there is no compromise between state institutions."
The right of university students to wear the headscarf should be regarded not as a political issue, but as part of personal freedoms, he said.
The secularist establishment, which includes the army, the judiciary, and the academic elite strongly favor the ban.
The headscarf was at the heart of a political crisis in April that blocked the AKP-dominated parliament's election of foreign minister Abdullah Gul as president and prompted the July 22 legislative elections.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 15 Temmuz 2007, 19:12
Gul's wife also wears the headscarf, and some secularist Turks raised objections to the prospect of a veiled first lady.
Public servants are also barred from wearing the scarf in Turkey.
The AKP came to power in 2002.
The party carried out democracy reforms that ensured the start of Turkey's membership talks with the European Union in 2005.