Hundreds of people protested in Muslim Azerbaijan on Friday for the right to wear headscarves in schools.
Around 800-1,000 people took part in the demonstration outside the Ministry of Education, far more than Azerbaijan's opposition has mustered in recent years to demand reform in the tightly-controlled former Soviet republic that some communities in Azerbaijan complain of discrimination.
Twelve people were arrested, police said.
There is no explicit ban on the wearing of headscarves in schools, but the government this year introduced a standard school uniform which precludes traditional Islamic dress.
"My daughter and her friends aren't allowed into classes in hijabs, and that's unacceptable," said a female protester who declined to be named.
The country of 9 million people is bordered to the West by Turkey.
Like much of the ex-Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has witnessed a limited religious freedom since independence in 1991.
The protest followed comments on Thursday by Education Minister Misir Mardanov, who told reporters: "Every pupil of middle schools must come to classes in school uniform, and can wear anything else outside the school walls."
"They accuse me of being an unbeliever, but I believe there exist laws and they must be observed."
Under Azerbaijan's strict political system, such comments will carry considerable weight among headteachers.
Protesters held banners that read "Freedom for the hijab" and "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest).
Authorities require religious communities to register with the state, and have closed or demolished several mosques in recent years.
AgenciesLast Mod: 12 Aralık 2010, 09:36