April 1, 2012 - 18:52 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Turkey's parliament has passed a bill that allows parents to move their children into Islamic schools earlier, BBC News reported.
The education reform bill extends compulsory education from eight to 12 years and allows children to switch to specialist schools from as young as 10.
The ruling AK Party says the bill will mean pupils stay longer in school but secular Turks see it as part of a wider plan to increase religious influence. MPs fought during a debate on the bill, which followed days of protests.
On Thursday, police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters in the Turkish capital, Ankara.
Some 295 of 550 MPs voted for the bill on Friday and 91 opposed it. The bill overturned a 1997 law forced through by the military that stopped children aged under 15 attending religious "imam hatip" schools. The schools were originally set up to train Islamic clerics.
Turkey's main secular opposition People's Republican Party has accused Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of seeking revenge for the law and attempting to raise a "religious youth".
Mr Erdogan has denied wanting to impose Islamic values on his countrymen. He has said he is committed to secularism but not at the expense of Turks who want to express their religious beliefs more openly.
He said the passing of the law was a victory for democracy. "It is a law that shows how much democracy in Turkey has advanced," the Turkish prime minister said. "Fascist pressures have been corrected through democracy."