German minister of Turkish origin in crucifix row

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Germany's first female regional minister of Turkish origin sparked a political backlash Monday after suggesting that crucifixes and other religious symbols should be banned from schools.

"Christian symbols should not have a place in our public schools," Aygul Ozkan, poised to become social affairs minister in the central German state of Lower Saxony, told Focus weekly magazine.

"School should be a neutral place," said Ozkan, 38, adding that the Islamic headscarf should also not be worn in class.

She is expected Tuesday to become the first female state minister of Turkish origin, as a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The premier of Lower Saxony, Christian Wulff, also CDU, reacted immediately, saying: "The regional executive considers religious symbols, especially the cross, to be the sign of a tolerant education, based on Christian values."

Others reacted with more vigour. Stefan Mueller, from the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the CSU, described Ozkan's remarks as "so absurd, it's scary."

"Politicians who want to ban crucifixes in schools should consider whether they really have a place in a Christian Democratic party," he added.

According to media reports, she has received death threats and has been placed under police protection.

The German government's commissioner for integration, Maria Boehmer, also criticised Ozkan, telling Deutschlandfunk radio: "Crosses in our schools are an expression of our tradition and our values."

Merkel's spokesman told a regular briefing that the chancellor was in full agreement with Boehmer.

© 2010 AFP

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